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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Filed under Farm, Natural world, Research, Seasons

Meeting with my Legislator

Back in mid March, I took a day away from the farm to join Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) in Madison for their Farm & Rural Lobby Day.  It was a great experience.  I carpooled with Linda and Cathy to Stevens Point and then we vanpooled with other WFU members from the central part of the state.  WFU scheduled meetings for us with our Senators and Representatives, in our case, Janet Bewley and Beth Meyers.  Policy staff at WFU had prepared really nice documents to share at these meetings on 4 priority topics: Supporting UWEX, Nonpartisan Redistricting, Rural Broadband and a Well Dispute Settlement Program proposal.  We also had the opportunity to bring up other topics of importance to us.  For Linda, Cathy and me, supporting UWEX was especially important and we each had examples of ways in which UWEX has been extremely valuable to us over the years.

We asked that our legislators let us know when they are in Price County so we could meet with them to continue the conversations.

Not long afterwards, I got a call from Beth Meyers’ staff person asking if she could come to tour my farm and learn about agriculture in Price County.  Of course I was thrilled to host her.  The day when Beth visited here, she also toured Linda and Gerry Ceylor’s Organic Valley dairy farm and had a listening session with a group of farmers in Catawba.

Just before Beth arrived here, a Channel 12 – Rhinelander van pulled in and Ben Meyer asked if he could tag along on the tour.  Turns out this meant with video camera in tow!  Good thing I didn’t have advance warning, I would have had time to get nervous.  Here is his take on my visit with Beth Meyers:  http://www.wjfw.com/storydetails/20160422174529

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Filed under Farm, Local Food, Natural world, Policy, Sustainability

Update on Organizing

A number of you encouraged me to post photos to document my progress in getting organized.  I think this is a good way to keep me on task.  This can be the first installment.

First the office space:

All moved in.  I’ve got a punchlist of items to complete and I continue to chip away at it – going through remaining files, etc.

And the barn sheep handling space:

I got it ready to hold sheep just in time for shearing.  It currently is a sheep holding area and the punchlist for that space is to complete the sheep handling capability by adding a hog panel and gates to create a chute that we can move them through.

And here’s a project that hasn’t yet gotten rolling:

This is the garden path cleanup that I wrote about earlier.  North, East, West and South.  What a mess!  Very soon I’ll start.  Right now, I’m tilling garden beds and staying ahead of the dandelion blooms.

Happy gardening!

 

 

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Spring Ephemeral Time in the Northwoods

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The Bloodroot right outside my back door is a true spring ephemeral – it emerges while the deciduous tree leaves are not yet shading the forest floor and virtually disappears later in the Spring.

Sanguinaria canadensis

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Ferns may not really be an ephemeral, but they are a lovely sign of Spring, none-the-less.

Osmundastrum cinnamomeum

I spend a great deal of time outside in the Spring, but only a little of that is spent wandering the woods.  We visited my parents at the lake in mid April and enjoyed a couple of hikes.  We spied wild leeks and just the barest beginning of the Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria).

Travel Wisconsin has compiled a number of walks to enjoy the Spring wildflowers.  Maybe you can find one near you: http://www.travelwisconsin.com/article/things-to-do/spring-beauties-10-wildflower-walks-that-will-wow-you.

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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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Filed under Farm, Reduce, reuse, recycle, Research, Sustainability

What a Good Idea!

Communal Meat Lockers Could Help Scale Up Sustainable Meat

Once a prevalent adjunct to butcher shops, community meat storage spaces in upstate New York are supporting farmers and making meat more affordable.

Look no further than the local food movement to find history repeating itself. Food preservation, root cellars, seed saving, and other “old-fashioned” practices are being reinvigorated all over the country, proving that good ideas have lasting power.

Now the meat locker is making a comeback, thawing out after a long, deep freeze since its heyday in the 1940s. Continue reading

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New Ideas Part 2

In New Ideas Part 1, I introduced the Spring 2015 issue of Spin-Off magazine with the theme “A Celebration of Stash”, referring to the materials spinners, knitters and any other hobbyists have stored away for some future project.  I always try to look to my personal collection or “stash” before I look elsewhere when starting something new.

Earlier this year I taught a class on knitting with multiple colors, which is technically called stranded knitting, but is often referred to as Fair Isle knitting.  My introduction to the technique was through Norwegian patterns and basically you create a picture with each stitch by carrying the yarn behind (the strand) in a horizontal float and knitting with it where appropriate to the picture.

In preparation for teaching the class, I borrowed a number of books from the library.  I found one in particular that I really  like and have since added it to my personal library (Thanks Santa!):  Mastering Color Knitting by Melissa Leapman

The students in my class had taken the sock knitting class last year, and are now adept at working on double point needles, so we started off with a small project to learn the basics of working with two colors.  I found a project on Ravelry: Colour-stranded Cup Cozy, by Anna Daku that I thought would be a good way for them to master the skills of stranding (reading the grid paper diagram, creating the horizontal floats, etc.) before advancing to a larger project like a hat, cowl, mittens, etc.

cup cozy

Slide one of these washable wool cup cozies onto a cup from your local coffee shop and your coffee will stay warmer and your finger tips won’t smart.  And…you’ll be styling!

For my larger project – I’ve been wanting to make myself a hat with ear flaps for a while.  So, I started digging through my collection of yarn but didn’t find any that was the right thickness or color.  I’m currently trying to bring some semblance of order to my office space and so I had my collection of dribs and drabs from classes, workshops and my own experimentation pulled out and I found something I could get really excited about!  But, was it enough for an ear flap hat?

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Handed carded Coopworth wool dyed with fresh indigo leaves

Background on the dyed wool: My friend Terry grows her own Japanese Indigo to use in dyeing wool from her Shetland sheep flock.  A while back, when she was gearing up to do some dyeing, she decided to make a mini workshop out of it.  I was thrilled to participate and brought along a small bag of white Coopworth wool from my flock to see how it would take the dye.  What you see above is the result!  Terry soaked the indigo leaves overnight in rain water at room temperature and from that preparation extracted the deeper blue.  The icy pale blue is the exhaust from the same preparation.  The warm caramel tan is a second extraction after boiling the leaves.  What a range!  What beautiful colors that are completely comfortable together!  If you would like to learn more about dyeing with plant materials (it is on my bucket list), a good source of information is The Dyer’s Garden by Rita Buchanan.

OK, so now I’m determined to get an ear flap had out of this little bit of lovely wool.  I spun singles and plied them into a two-ply yarn.  If felt like I was over plying, but I finally got a yarn that was balanced after washing to set the twist.  The gauge swatch knit up to about 7 sts per inch using US size 2 needles.  I started out with 74 yards of darker blue, 58 yards of lighter blue and 64 yards of tan.  To keep this challenging, my search uncovered many hat patterns for two colors of yarn and gauges of 6 sts per inch.  I knew it was crucial for me to use all three colors in order to have enough yarn.

So, I adapted several patterns I like.  I started with the ear flaps from Cap for Learning Stranded Knitting by Cynthia Wasner.  Then I moved on to the star pattern from Norwegian Star Earflap Hat by Tiennie.  But, to make the hat large enough, I added one more star.  From here, I alternated between the three colors and looked to the peeries and borders shown in Mastering Color Knitting for inspiration.  I pulled out a pad of graph paper and drew my pictures for each section.

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The end result seen from the stranded side

Coopworth wool is on the coarser end of the wool fiber diameter spectrum*, which makes it extremely durable, though perhaps a bit itchy on my forehead.  For this reason, as well as to eliminate the risk of snagging the floats and to make it extra warm and wind proof, I chose to line the hat with a thin polar fleece.  I made a search online to get ideas for how to shape the polar fleece lining and discovered a marvelous resource… from right here in Wisconsin!  TECHknitting: Fully lining hats with polar fleece a blog post by TECHknitter was just exactly what I was looking for.

Even though I had added stitches, my hat was still a bit snug when I finished lining it, so I searched the house for something to slightly stretch the hat over while blocking it.

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Lined hat during blocking

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The smallest ice cream bucket in our collection was just the thing.  My new ear flap hat fits just perfectly now!

And here’s what is left.  Phew!

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*Coopworth fiber diameter = 35-39, Merino fiber diameter = 18 – 24

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Filed under Fiber Arts, Natural world