Category Archives: Research

Learning about dyeing with plants

Coopworth roving dyed with dried Japanese Indigo leaves

I’m loving this learning about dyeing with natural materials. Except that the learning curve is so very steep. The really great thing, though, is that even when I don’t get the colors I expected, I still get really beautiful results. BTW, the beautiful and saturated blues I got in the picture above is my beginners luck experience.

I’m a proud producer member of Three Rivers Fibershed. Though I had been interested in the idea of natural dyes prior to joining them, it is really the Fibershed ethic of Local Labor, Local Fiber and Local Dye that encouraged me to begin this journey into local dye plants.

I began raising Japanese indigo several years ago. I have tried to master the fermentation techniques that are a common way of extracting color from indigo, but have not had success with that…yet! I will continue to experiment this summer, but with tiny jars until I gain more confidence. Sea Spell Fiber’s over-extraction stories on Instagram have been invaluable to learning the process.

Japanese indigo extraction experiment
Japanese indigo extraction experiment

Happily, I have had success extracting color from indigo by two other techniques – the dried indigo technique that I first learned about from Deb McClintock’s webpage. And the fresh leaf technique that is like creating an indigo smoothie. You just swirl it up and shazam, it turns the wool a beautiful aqua blue green! Watching the oxidation take place before your eyes is really cool too. I did this experiment with my niece and her good buddy since it involved nothing but indigo and water. And, I’ve learned that where indigo is native, it is considered to be really healthy stuff. In fact, if we are wearing clothes that are dyed with real indigo leaves, the clothing may be healthful to our skin!?!

Fresh Japanese Indigo “smoothie”
The results of dyeing with that indigo smoothie – it is after that when I learned about the wonders of using a paint strainer to keep the plant material away from my wool.

I’m probably most excited about using things that are either food waste or plants that are less than desirable in my environment. In the food waste department, I have worked with avocado pits and skins and onion skins. And, in the less desirable plant department (weeds, non-native invasives, etc.), I have so far done dye experiments with curly dock seeds, stinging nettle leaves and tansy blossoms.

The experiments will continue. My knowledge will grow. The highly enjoyable journey continues! If you would like to get your hands on a skein of naturally dyed Coopworth yarn or roving, have a look at the ever changing color lineup in my online store. And watch for posts of my dye journey on Instagram

Tansy and Japanese indigo over-dyed with tansy.
Tansy and Japanese indigo over-dyed with tansy. Coopworth roving.
Autumn aspen leaf dyed Coopworth yarn
Hollyhock blossom dyed Coopworth yarn and roving
Elderberry dye pot
Elderberry dyed Coopworth yarn – berries tend to be “fugitive dyes” – not likely to stay this lovely pink long-term. They will fade to a pleasing blue-grey.
Marigolds, rudbekia and calendula destined for drying and later wool dyeing.

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Filed under Family and friends, Farm, Fermentation, Fiber Arts, Fibershed, gardening, natural dyes, Reduce, reuse, recycle, Research, Sustainability, Wool

Greenin’ and Grazin’ in Taylor and Price

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Jane’s flock of registered Coopworth sheep (and one Romeldale CVM wether “Uncle Flax”)

Thanks to a generous Local Initiatives grant from Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU), the Taylor/Price Chapter of WFU is hosting a pasture walk series this summer.

 

Diversified Vegetable Farm – July 19, 5:30pm-8pm at We Grow LLC, Rebecca and Eric Zuleger near Westboro, WI.

This farm walk will cover Rebecca and Eric’s 7 acre organic (not USDA certified) vegetable operation providing for their 20-week CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) along with heritage breed, pasture-raised hogs. The farm walk will also touch on organic soil amendments, cover cropping for green manure and forage, pastured poultry and high-tunnel vegetable production. Tour their recently completed pack shed with post-harvest handling equipment.

The walk will include guest speaker Rick Knopp, soils agronomist.  He will focus on soil testing and recommendations of how to organically rejuvenate worn out soil.

N7975 Zimmerman Rd, Westboro, WI 54490.  Directions:  From state highway 13 in Westboro (approx. 15 miles north of Medford) travel west on highway D two miles. Then travel south two miles on Zimmerman Rd. We Grow is located at N7975 which is on the southwest corner of the intersection of Rindt and Zimmerman Roads.

Sheep Pasture Walk and FAMACHA Training Workshop – July 20th, 10am – 4pm FAMACHA workshop (registration required – space is limited) and 4-6pm pasture walk (open to the public) at Autumn Larch Farm LLC, Jane Hansen in Ogema, WI.

The pasture walk will highlight various techniques employed to help reduce parasite load and chemical wormer use in small ruminants; non-chemical techniques for managing brush and weeds; incorporating native grasses and legumes; pasture condition scoring; and winter hay feeding strategies to increase soil fertility  Representatives from the USDA NRCS office in Taylor County will have information about Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) funding.  Medford Veterinary Clinic has been invited to attend and weigh-in on parasite and health issues in sheep.

Attention Small Ruminant producers: Register to be trained in the use of the FAMACHA technique in determining whether or not to worm individual animals.  This workshop is taking place earlier the same day: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM 7/20/18.  Space is limited.  Deadline to register: 7/16/18.  Registration brochure

Autumn Larch Farm LLC raises registered Coopworth sheep for wool, meat, breeding stock and enjoyment; heirloom garlic, handcrafted soap and more.  Jane coordinates the North Central WI Fiber Guild, is a producer member of the Three Rivers Fibershed and also a member of the Taylor/Price chapter of WI Farmers Union.

W7120 County Road O, Prentice, WI.  Directions: From State Highway 13 near Ogema, turn west onto County Road O and continue six miles. From State Highway 8 east of Catawba, turn south onto County Road O and continue eight miles. Farm is on the north side of County Road O.

Dairy Pasture Walk – September, 20th, 12:30-3pm at Hillside Dairy Farm, Linda and Jerry Ceylor in Catawba, WI.

The walk will include guest speaker Dr. Silvia Able-Caines, Ruminant Nutritionist with Organic Valley.  She will be addressing the challenges of a no-grain diet and parasite control in organic cattle.  In addition, we will tour the facilities and see the Ceylor’s rotational grazing system.

Gerald & Linda began farming in Washington in 1990 but due to urbanization moved to Catawba in 1997 with their two children.  They currently milk 40 crossbred dairy cows and raise replacement heifers on an all-forage, no-grain diet, and are on the all-grass milk route with Organic Valley.  Their facilities include a coverall free stall barn and a double 4 herringbone milking parlor.  Ceylor’s manage 400 acres which includes 115 acres of pasture.  Linda serves on the Wisconsin Farmer’s Union Board as the District One Director.

N3689 Riley Rd, Catawba, WI  54515.  DirectionsFrom Catawba, WI, take Highway 8 approximately one mile west and turn left, (south), on Woodlawn Road and go .5 mile.  Turn right, (west), onto Lawrence Street and go one mile.  Turn left, (south), onto Riley Road and go 2 miles to the farm on the right.

For more information, please contact:  Jane Hansen at autumnlarch@gmail.com or (715) 767-5958.

 

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Winter is certainly here!

But, it took a long time to arrive.

I timed my final harvest of carrots down to about the last possible second.

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This was the first week of December and the ground hadn’t yet frozen.  If I had gotten to this job just a day or two earlier, it would not have involved snow.

As you can see, the chickens have been moved into their winter quarters inside the garden fence where I can run an extension cord to plug their coop in for supplemental light and a heated water dish.

The garlic seed is snugly tucked into the ground and poultry net has been strung around the garlic beds in case the chickens get over exuberant.

At this point, the sheep were still getting most of their nutrition from grazing.  As you can see here, the lawn was still quite green.  Plenty of forage was available in most of the pasture.  This is really remarkable.  Often, by mid October I am feeding hay because there is no forage left, but this year it just kept right on growing until it got covered with snow in early December.

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I take pasture photos at 6 standard locations on the first of each month as a form of research and record keeping.  This was the 12/1/16 photo of Paddock 1.

Today, we are experiencing a real winter deep freeze.  The benefit of weather so cold that I’m reluctant to step outside is that I do finally get around to the paperwork and computer projects that had been languishing when I was working on outside projects.

I’m very pleased to have finally made a bunch of updates to my little online store.  Have a look: https://squareup.com/store/autumn-larch-farm-llc.  There you will find soaps, sheepskins, raw fleeces, roving, yarn and more.

If you live nearby, save the postage and contact us to set up a time to stop in and do your shopping in person.  If you live farther away, this little online store is a great option for having a look at the products available and getting them delivered right to your door via USPS.

Stay warm and enjoy the vibrant sunshine that usually comes with the bitter cold.

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Filed under Farm, Fiber Arts, gardening, Getting Organized, Research, Seasons, Sheep

Photos for research and record keeping

Back in 2012, I decided to take pictures once each month from 6 positions on our pasture as a record.  I was hoping to be able to document improvements in the pasture forage quality.  I think some of that is happening.  It has also been interesting to see how differently a pasture can look on the same day from one year to the next.

I have included May 1st and October 1st here, from one vantage point and through multiple years.  Both of those dates can be quite different depending on the amount of warmth, rain, snow, etc.

May 2012 illustrates the early and warm spring that we experienced that year.  May 2014 shows how long it took to recover from the ‘polar vortex’.  Rain was obviously plentiful in the early fall of 2014.

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Getting Organized…Hopefully…Yes!

This late winter/early spring has been sort of a perfect storm of get organized messages for me.

First, I moved everything out of my office in order for Chris and I to install new cork flooring there to cover up the rough attic planking that exists there.  I have vowed to go through everything and only put back what I truly need.  Now, this is a major hurdle because I am very likely to look at everything and think I might find a use for it someday.  I have, however, recycled a huge stack of paper, designated a bunch of useful stuff to go to St. Vinnies and found deserving homes for several other items.  Some things were beyond any useful life and did wind up in the trash.  And, a few pounds of dust bunnies were removed before the new floor went in.  Later this week or early next week I will begin the slow process of cleaning each item and setting it in a well thought out location in my refurbished office space.

In the meantime, I attended the MOSES Organic Conference in La Crosse, WI.  With my radar set to organize mode, I was bombarded with ideas to do just that.  I attended a pre-conference Organic University taught by Chris Blanchard of the Purple Pitchfork called Managing your way to Farm Success.  This course was a goldmine of worthwhile information about getting organized.  I came home with resolutions to get an annual inventory up and running (I’m well on my way to completion!) and to close open loops (the gates are repaired, tools are hanging close at hand in the hoophouse, and more) of nearly completed projects that can’t yet be checked of the checklist and get in the way physically and mentally.

On the suggested reading list for virtually every session I attended at the Organic Conference were the following: The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits with Less Work by Ben Hartman and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®  by Stephen R. Covey.  The first one is a new book, but the second one is a surprise because it has been around for over 25 years.  It indicates to me that small scale organic farming has matured of late to a point where the how-to’s of growing are pretty well mastered and therefore farmers are taking a closer look at management and organization.

I borrowed The Lean Farm from the library and devoured it.  It fed perfectly into all the organizational thinking I had already been doing.  The principles behind the lean system were developed in the automotive industry by Toyota.  Ben Hartman has taken the concepts and translated them into the world of small sustainable farms.  And they make so much sense to me!  Basically the lean system roots out waste (labor, resource, etc.) to improve efficiencies.

Examining my own farm for areas where I spend a lot of time without gaining any value (sadly a long, long list), I decided to start by tackling my weedy garden paths and by creating a sheep handling area that could stay in place at all times.

I have been trying and failing to manage the weeds in my garden paths by laying down newspaper and covering it with mulch.  I spend time on it every year and never get all the way around the garden.  Therefore, I’m perpetually allowing weeds to go to seed and to spread by roots and rhizomes and this adds to the work year on year.  I have a friend who has had in place a type of landscape fabric that acts as a weed barrier and is also designed to withstand UV exposure.  I spoke with her to get advice on how to install the material to get the most from it.  I’m going to prepare a level substrate with gravel covered by a thin layer of sand and will avoid puncturing the fabric wherever possible by lapping it up onto my wooden raised beds and using batten strips to hold it in place.  I’m trying to avoid using mulch on top of the fabric because it always catches seeds and provides welcoming habitat for new weeds to germinate.  This fabric can’t be considered a permanent solution (even concrete isn’t permanent), but it should make my weed management system vastly more efficient with a relatively low cash and labor outlay.

There is a corner of our barn that can easily be retrofitted for a sheep handling area.  I’ve been researching sheep handling system designs and got good ideas from Use Sheep Behaviour to Your Advantage When Designing Handling Facilities, Sheep 201 and North Dakota State University Sheep Building Plans.  Rather than invest a great deal of money in panels and gates initially, I’m starting by using hog panels cut to length for chutes, gates, etc.  That way, I can try out the system and see if it works or not.  Later on, I’ll add specially made equipment where it adds the most to the efficiency of the system.

I have just started reading Covey’s book.  I’m certain that principles he writes about will add depth to the paradigm shifts that started for me this winter.  I know “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, but I’m happy to have this new lean farm lens to examine all my farming activities and decisions through.

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Can Knitting Improve Your Health?

I know that the answer is: OF COURSE!  But, it was fun to have my hunch reinforced through science.

Have a listen to the following 7 minute To the Best of our Knowledge segment: Can Knitting Improve Your Health?

You’ll hear about examples of therapeutic applications of knitting to control pain and improve well-being.  It can be rhythmic and calming.  The action of knitting and the end result of something you can use provides rewards to the brain.

I often find it hard to sit still in a conference or workshop and if I bring along a simple knitting project, I can work on that and pay even better attention to the proceedings than I could without the knitting project.

The knitting segment at the link above is part of a collection of stories broadcast on To the Best of our Knowledge on December 6th, 2015 called Handwork.

I’m sure there are many other activities using the hands that can provide the same benefits, but I have to say, knitting is my personal favorite!

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Autumn Larch Farm LLC in the news

http://www.agriview.com/news/livestock/architect-farmer-builds-local-foods-connections/article_3f86cae2-2b85-584a-af0e-2991ea846b4f.html

purses hang on fence

Photo by Jane Fyksen

November 26, 2015 1:00 am  • 

PRENTICE, Wis. – Previously a commercial architect living in downtown Chicago, Jane Hansen moved with her husband, Chris Wallner, to Price County 15 years ago — to become a farmer.

She’s still building, but now she’s building connections in the local-foods arena. Though she stepped down as coordinator of the Wisconsin Local Food Network in April, she remains active and looks forward to the 10th-annual Wisconsin Local Food Summit, to be held Jan. 14-15, 2016, at the Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan Falls. She helped plan the first nine summits.

“We are excited that Jane will be assisting us in bringing local food to our state convention in January,” said Lloyd of Wisconsin Farmers Union’s Jan. 29-31 gathering at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton. “It is a priority for our members to directly support farmers and the local economy by buying local food for our meals together.”

Hansen raises sheep and poultry, and direct-markets artisan wool products and more. She named her farm Autumn Larch for swamp-loving Tamarack trees in the Larch family. The trees produce a second round of golden color in the fall after hardwoods have lost their leaves. The farm’s sheep are Coopworth, a breed from New Zealand that originated from mating Border Leicester and Romney.

“It’s a strong dual-purpose breed,” she said of high-quality wool and meat production.

The hardy breed fits her pasture-based management, which includes wintering outside with woods as windbreak. Although not certified organic, Hansen uses garlic to boost sheep immunity and stave off internal parasites. Year-round she feeds fresh-ground garlic in grain once a week, at the rate of one to two cloves per head per week. She deworms ewes by drenching with garlic juice. Each 150-pound ewe receives 5 cubic centimeters each of garlic juice and aloe juice with 20 cubic centimeters of water.

An avid learner and armchair researcher, Hansen uses an herbal “antibiotic” called artemesia annua — known as wormwood or sweet annie – to control liver fluke in her sheep.

“These are things I’m dabbling in,” she said. “It’s part of the buckshot I use to try to solve problems.”

Hansen sells lamb, tanned hides, fleeces, roving and yarn. A fiber artist herself, she knits and felts colorful wool handbags. Her ewes wear coats to protect their fleeces. The sheep sport names such as Hoglah, Tirzah and Micah.

Her laying flock of red hens supplies several customers with eggs. She also makes nine fragrances of soap and unscented “Not So Plain Jane” soap, which pokes fun at her name. Some of her herbal soap is wrapped in felted wool; no washcloth is necessary with the unique bath-and-shower product.

In addition to attending craft fairs, Hansen belongs to Countryside Artists’ Gallery in the Fred Smith house at the Wisconsin Concrete Park in Phillips. In 1948, Smith, at 62, started creating artwork that resulted in more than 230 embellished concrete figures in his yard. The concrete folk art is a tourist attraction, which is an outlet for Hansen’s products.

An avid market-vegetable grower, Hansen specializes in hardier produce such as salad greens, cabbage, onions and garlic. She extends her season with a hoop greenhouse. In October she planted about 1,700 cloves of garlic, some of which is braided. The cloves will be decorative in customers’ kitchens. Grocers also buy her garlic for resale.

One of many local-foods connections Hansen has forged is with the Phillips School District and Food Service Director Terra Gastman.

“I really enjoy working with Jane,” Gastman said of a farm-to-school partnership with Hansen. “She emails me each week and lets me know what she has available. We have made fresh squash for the kids several times this year. We have some saved to serve with our Thanksgiving lunch at school.

“The kids do notice when the produce is fresh. Fresh oven-roasted zucchini is a favorite. Jane’s fresh vegetables are a great addition to our lunch program.”

Vice-president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union’s Price and Taylor counties’ unit, Hansen is active in the farm organization’s local-foods promotions.

“Wisconsin is a leader in the country for work on developing a vibrant local and regional food system,” said Sarah Lloyd, Wisconsin Farmers Union special projects coordinator. “Jane Hansen has been an important leader in the network of farmers, organizations, agencies and consumers that are working on the issue.”

Visit AutumnLarchFarm.wordpress.com for more information on Hansen’s products. Visithttps://wilocalfood.wordpress.com/summit-2016 for more on the 2016 Local Food Summit. Visit www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com to learn about Wisconsin Farmers Union’s local-foods thrust and upcoming convention.

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Lamb update

We’re nothing if not consistent!?  Every year, we breed our ewes to a natural color (non-white) ram.  First two years, every lamb was white, even for our natural colored ewe.  This year, we have 7 lambs so far and they are all dark colored.  I think some are brown and some are black, but I will just have to observe and learn.  This winter when things are quieter, I will have to put some more study into color genetics to understand what is dominant, etc.

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Scout’s new best friend Chaplin

We’re so consistent here that even the cat who happened through and adopted us nearly two weeks ago is also black?!  He is fitting right in.  He is fast friends with the dogs and comfortable with the chickens and the sheep.

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Weaving the Great Soil Quilt…

My friend, colleague and fellow farmer at Hilltop Community Farm, Erin Schneider, is convening a collaborative art-making project.  I’m curious about how it will turn out and have agreed to participate.

Erin sent me a square of sturdy, off-white fabric and instructions a few weeks ago.  Here are examples of results: https://parideazafarmart.wordpress.com/collaboration-with-soil/

For my contribution to the effort, I selected what I call the ‘driveway garden’ for ‘planting’ my square of quilt fabric because it has special meaning.  This garden is where we have buried two of our beloved pets – Pencil the cat and Banjo the dog.  Ashes of Pippin the dog are also scattered there in order for him to be near his mentor and leader Banjo.

This garden contains native perennial plants and shrubs and far too many weeds.  My care of the garden in recent years has been less than exemplary.  Digging a hole to bury this quilt square at least takes a small step towards removing some of the weeds.  As I worked, our very helpful laying hens began to take notice.  They cannot keep their feet out of loose soil.  I gave one a big white grub found in the hole.  After burying the fabric, I needed to place a few rocks, in part to mark the location, but also to discourage the scratching of chickens.P1000509 P1000511 P1000512 P1000514

I will be retrieving the fabric in 2-3 weeks and will post additional photos at that point.

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An ideal day for sheep

A passel of content lambs on this cool, sunny, day

A passel of content lambs on this cool, sunny, day

Hoglah hard at work

Hoglah hard at work

IMG_8963Hoglah finally had her twins late last week.  Today is the first day I have felt like taking pictures since then.  First we had hot and muggy days where the only times the lambs frolicked was after dark.  Then we had rainy, soggy, chilly.  Who wants to look at pictures of damp, hunched back little lambs.

But today, now that is a different story.  I think this might be the sort of day a sheep would order if they could do such a thing.  It included enough wind to keep the bugs at bay, temps in the 50’s F and bright sunshine with just a few clouds.  I enjoyed it too.

The lows in the 20’s F predicted for tonight may suit the sheep better than me, though.  I’ve got the tender plants in the hoophouse covered with floating row cover, so hopefully they will survive.  I’m already sad for the tree fruit that will probably not happen this summer because of this pesky frost.

Hoglah also had a ram and a ewe lamb.  With this 3 makes a pattern on my farm where each ewe had one of each, it makes me wonder if this is always the case or just a coincidence.  I guess I could ask around, or do some research online, or just continue to make observations here on the farm.

 

 

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