Tuesday, September 26, 2023

On A Wool Farm

Storing wool, raw or finished items, is an ongoing job that should never be taken lightly.  Well, it should be taken lightly...but I'll come back to that and add a few more wool storage tips in a minute.  

Most people storing wool are concerned about moths.  Opening a bag of wool to find a clump of moths inside is a terrible feeling.  As I finished skirting (finally) this spring's fleeces and started sorting through the saved fleeces from past years, I found...chicken eggs :-o.

Broken chicken eggs.

In three bags...including my last Petunia fleece.

Next pandemic I'm just going to starve to death. 

As I was picking out chunks of egg mess I came up with a better plan to keep the chickens from having access to their favorite nesting [bags].  The previous plan of a horribly annoying and apparently not effective piece of cattle panel precariously hooked across the front of the area was just as annoying as the stupid chickens.  

Luckily my friend Ed was bored enough to come out here and make the plan work.  He built a frame around the back of the left side and covered it with wire and plastic netting.  The fronts are easily removed to access the wool. The whole thing looks so neat and tidy and now I feel confident it will stay neat and tidy...and egg free.  

Side note: when I posted this picture on IG, several people commented that it looked like the fleeces were in jail.  Three people in our neighborhood have seen it and all three said it looked like either a liquor store in downtown Chicago or when they used to block off the beer aisle at the grocery on Sundays.  I'm not sure what that says about us...well, I guess I do ;-).

Moving on to the Wool House.  Twice a year I pull everything out and check each bag and basket for any sign of trouble.  This year I found lots of tiny holes in quite a few of the roving bags up in the loft.  

Nothing amiss with the wool...just tiny holes everywhere.

What on earth...


I'm not going to add plastic netting to the inside of the Wool House and if I try to limit his access to the ladder he'll just try to do something heroic like jump up there from the loom and then rack up a vet bill to add insult to injury so I'm going to just keep adding tape to cover his needle sharp claw holes.

Don't even think about it, Pecky Becky!

* * * * *

Here are some wool storage tips that have worked well for me.  This is going to be heavy on the plastic, sadly, but this is one application where I just hold my nose...

Keep everything in clear bags.  Moths are looking for dark so a black plastic bag is exactly where they are hoping you'll stash your stash.

Keep your fleeces where the light hits them. Don't store wool in your dark garage or basement.

Do not store raw wool in the house.  Get it washed as quickly as you can.  

If you aren't actively using a wool item (sweaters, coats, blankets, yarn, roving...) keep it secure in a clear plastic bag and give everything a quick check a couple times a year.

I add bay leaves to all my yarn and roving baskets.  I may not be actively using the baskets of handspun yarn or roving I have stashed around the Wool House, but I love seeing them sitting there.  Scattering bay leaves into the baskets seems to be helping keep them safe.  Definitely doesn't hurt.  

I use clear plastic tubs to store my sweaters.  I have concerns about the holes where the handles clip the lids on so I toss bay leaves in there as well.

Moths don't like to be disturb things as often as you can.  More knitting, weaving, spinning!  

When I'm doing my spring and fall 'clean up and check everything', I take my open yarn baskets outside in the sun and shake each skein out, turn the baskets upside down and refresh the bay leaves.  You can get bulk bay leaves at a good grocery or find a friend in California with them growing in their front yard ;-).

Another way I shake things up is by tossing finished items (sweaters, blankets...) in the dryer a couple of times a year, especially in the summer.  The tumbling and heat has never affected the fit of anything.  Don't do that with wet wool items though as, yes, they would shrink right up.  

Be vigilant!  Keep an eye on everything and if you find a problem, remove the item immediately and check everything else nearby.  You don't need to throw out your yarn, roving, sweater...  Just get it away from your stash and out into the sun and shake it out.  Washing it is never a bad idea either.  

I don't like using chemicals and would only use them if there was a crisis situation.  There is an aerosol dairy spray you can get at the farm store that you can spray into a plastic bag and immediately close up and hopefully not much gets out into the air.

Don't be so hard on those hard working spiders in your corners.  They may be helping keep your wool safe :-).

Sunday, September 17, 2023

"Morning, Murphy!"

I've often been asked if there is a leader within our flock here, and honestly, other than certain sheep that everyone seems to respect or sheep that take on certain roles, I've never really noticed one particular sheep that has ever truly assumed control...until this summer.

I wish I could scroll back through time and see when Murphy started bowling the other sheep over to get out to pasture first.  Has he always done this and I never paid any attention until I started locking the back gate at night and opening it each morning, watching them all head out?

At first I just thought it was Murphy being a bossy piggy, wanting to get to the choicest grass (since there's such a shortage of it here ;-) first, but then I (finally) started noticing that no one ever left the barn lot until Murphy said "Let's go!"

Murphy is frequently not the earliest riser.  I usually find a big cluster of sheep already milling around the barn lot while he waits until the last minute to get out of bed, however, no one ever makes a move towards the now opened gate to the back fields.

The first thing Murphy does when he gets up is check the gate latch headed to the Easy Breezy alfalfa stash.  Once he's sure there's nothing to pillage in the barn, he marches out through the gathered sheep, bouncing off anyone who doesn't get out of his way.

At that point everyone falls in line behind him until he reaches the threshold of the gate where he usually stops to survey the back fields.   They all stop as well.  I'm not sure if he's looking for danger or just trying to decide if he's heading towards McDonalds or Hardees.

Once he's made up his mind and starts walking again, everyone else starts walking again as well, but no one ever passes him on the way out.  Whether he goes left or right, he's always in the lead.  After they all reach open ground, everyone begins to make their own decisions.

There have been some fun series of photos of this behavior all summer on IG.  It's not really a puzzle in itself, but if you are looking for a new one... ;-).

Monday, September 11, 2023

For Fun And Fitness

Frankie and I both fall into the "fitness cookie in my mouth" camp, but we're back in the groove of working and were able to attend a Spokes and Spurs club drive at Shaker Village over the weekend.  It's a beautiful and historic area of Kentucky, south of Lexington, and it's always worth a visit if you are ever in the area.

There are miles and miles and miles of horse trails, but we stuck mostly to the paved and gravel roads.  We were allowed to drive up into the village and routed through some beautiful rolling hills with fantastic stone fences.  The weather was perfect, the company the best and we had a great day.

We headed in a little earlier than the rest of the group because I could tell Frankie was getting tired, especially on the hills.  We've mostly schooled in fairly level ground for the last few weeks as he builds his strength back up.  That carriage is heavy and I'm no lightweight...because of the cookies ;-).

I hope you enjoy taking a drive with us.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Anatomy Of A Nap

I was trying to get a picture of Short Round napping.  Her cute wrinkly nose just makes me happy.  Everything about this sheep makes me happy.  I didn't want to wake anyone up, so was trying to quietly sneak a picture through the gate and I couldn't really get an angle that I liked.  
If I crop this in to remove that big blurry blob in the foreground, the rest of the composition is me.  And what exactly is that big blurry blob?
Maisie :-)
You can use your foot and some comfy straw as a pillow...or you can use a hard plastic feed trough.  Maisie always picks the feed trough.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023


Auntie Reg has been caring for her family Night Blooming Cereus for over 20 years.  In all that time, the plant had never flowered.  The last bloom had been in 2000 in it's previous location.  After my plant started blooming a few years ago, she brought hers over here in hopes it would be happier and finally bloom as well.

I looked back through the blog to find a post to link with the story about one of my bloom(s) and can't find a single reference.  I know I've taken tons of pictures of them over the years and I think it started blooming before I got lazy with the blog, so I'm stumped.  I enjoyed looking back for a bit though and I encourage you to do that some time.

Back to the present, Reg's plant has been here for at least three, maybe four years now.  No blooms.  It's big and gangly and paired with my similar sized plant, takes up an incredible amount of room indoors throughout the winter.  I told her it needed to go back to her home this fall.

I have a huge ornamental orange (that was supposed to be a lemon) tree that I've carried with me for over 30 years.  At about year 20, both Tim and I were getting pretty weary.  We thought it was Really Big.  As we carried it out that spring, I told Tim I was going to leave it out and let it pass with the first hard frost in the fall.

After over 20 years of never even a hint of a bloom (or any other redeeming quality other than just being a tree...which is really enough if you aren't having to be carried in and out on a shipping dolly) it panicked and by mid summer was covered in blooms and has been blooming and producing oranges ever since.  It's now almost 9' tall and we know now what Really Big really is.

Back to the flower, about two weeks ago I noticed a tiny bud forming on one of the leaves!  After all these years!  Apparently plants don't need to be talked nice to.  They need threatening.  I maybe should have tried that with my pumpkins.

We watched it grow and I built elaborate fences around the front of the Wool House to try to keep naughty chickens, pillaging sheep, clumsy cats and excitable dogs from breaking it off.  Then a fluke storm blew through and sent it crashing to the ground.  Miraculously it survived.

Bloom day!  What starts as a tiny bud grows into a huge bud about the size of a fist and it hangs down about six inches from the leaf.  The bloom will start opening as night falls and continues to open for several hours.  We made a party out of it :-D.

The weather was perfect and a small fire kept us comfortable and entertained between flower checks.  20 and Pip joined us :-).  

I've seen quite a few blooms now, but they never fail to amaze.  And the fragrance!  The white above the flower is not part of it.  That's a scrap of wool felt used to pad a branch I'd tied up to keep it from interfering with the bloom.

As the bats flew out I brought Stellaluna out to join them (bottom left).

We all watched the flower and the still almost full blue super moon and listened to the night bugs and a tiny screech owl and the fire crackling and it was just a fantastic night.

20 made sure Archie didn't do anything stupid.

Pip enjoyed getting a closer look.

And one last August fog rolled in just before midnight.


Thursday, August 31, 2023


I don't know how old she was.  She'd been here for probably at least ten years and she was already full grown when she arrived.  Full grown, but incredibly small...about half the size of the Crowing Hen...who isn't big either.  I never figured out what breed(s) she was. 

She was terribly scared any time I picked her up and just shook like a leaf, but she always knew I was helping and bravely let me gather her up every night. She'd been sleeping in the Wool House every night for the past couple of months.  I didn't mind it at all. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

As The Way Most Things End...

A couple of weeks ago I had a decent sized pumpkin starting to grow from one of the Big Moose pumpkins.  Most of the rest of the plants have died off.  While I had my hands full hauling out some potentially diseased vines I left the gate sidetracked...sheep got in...pumpkin got eaten.  

That one was completely on me.

I've pretty much given up on the Great Pumpkin making a showing here.  I'd add "this fall" to that sentence, but at this point I don't think I'll ever give pumpkins another try.  How I could have so much fun last year and so little fun this year...  

I just started to have one more potential pumpkin making an effort to save the day.  This is one of the extension office plants.  As I was checking on it this afternoon I saw a little blemish...looked closer...a stupid chicken had pecked it!  

My last grasp at success...pecked. by. a. chicken.

My first thought was "Well, that's going to be a goner now.  Those little holes will let bacteria in and that will be the end."  

I decided it couldn't hurt to try to cover the hole.  I was thinking masking tape would be the least destructive...but my masking tape has apparently run off with my half empty glass.  The only tape I could find was some vintage sheep duct tape from Auntie Reg.

Maybe the sheep will end up saving the day!

Monday, August 28, 2023

Back On The Wagon

"Looks like you've been missing a lot of work lately."

"I wouldn't exactly say I've been missing it."

Bonus points if you can identify that movie ;-D.

After feeling pretty good about everything we accomplished back in the late winter/early spring (that didn't even make IG except for some clips at the end of the April month end video :-/), I completely fell "off the wagon" this summer and barely got anything done.  

One of my favorite quotes is something to the effect of live your life so that your 8 year old self and your 80 year old self would be proud.  My eight year old self would have killed to have nice (heck, they wouldn't even have had to have been nice ;-) horses in her back yard.  She'd have ridden the hair off them, too.

You can know these things and be aware of these things and know you are disappointing your eight year old self (and your 55 year old self to be honest) and still not be able to do anything about it.  That's the summer I've had. 

(Picks up self, dusts off pants, knocks cobwebs from helmet, remembers another favorite quote "I didn't come this far to only come this far.")

I am planning on returning to the National Drive this fall.  Bea and I had a ton of fun last year, not only doing all the horse activities, but also camping and hanging out with some new friends who coincidentally messaged me on a day I needed some encouragement to make sure we were coming back this year.  

I would never ask Frankie to go to an event like that without adequately preparing him.  I am not great at doing things for myself, but I'm very reliable doing things for others.  If I have to do this for Frankie, not just because it's what I love to do, then at least my 80 year old self will be proud.  She'd understand about being tired, but would also not want me to miss out on the fun...which it is...if you just go out and climb back on the wagon.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Gone Batty

Knitting small stuffed animals seems to be my go to summer project.  Remember that cute frog from last year?  This year designer Claire Garland came out with a bat pattern.  You know that one went straight to the top of my queue!

The pattern called for size 0 needles and fingering weight yarn.  The smallest needle I have is a size 2 so I picked out some sport weight yarn knowing I could still knit the pattern, but that my bat would just be a little bigger.  

The pattern was well written and fun and knit up easily.  When I got to the part where I needed to cut out the felt wings I realized that my bigger bat was not going to fit those smaller wings so I drew a bigger design.  

Since I was drawing a new wing pattern anyway, I changed a couple of elements.  First, since mine was now a big brown bat, I edited the wing design to more closely match that species.  I also thought it would be cute if the wings would fold around the body so the bat could go to sleep and changed the placement just a bit so they would tuck cleanly under her face.

I didn't have any matching brown felt so I took a piece of gray and dyed it myself.  For as "anti-colorful" as I am, I really do like to play with making colors for special projects. Instead of stitching the bat's "fingers" as folds in the felt, I used a tiny crochet hook and made crochet chains that I then needle felted and stitched them into the wings.

One last thing I tweaked was to insert short pipe cleaners into the toes.  I did that with a needle and just threaded them down through the foot and out the toes.  I left them sticking out a bit on the ends, folding them up behind the toes when she's awake and ready to fly and unfolding them when she's ready to go to sleep so they can securely wrap around a branch or a loom rod :-).

The next fun part was trying to figure out how to get the best pictures of her.  I started out in the Wool House, but that's one of the worst places to try to get accurate pictures of dark I moved outside...where it's also really hard to get pictures of dark yarns if the sun is still shining, even if you move into the I made one last effort last night after the sun dropped below the horizon.

"Miss Bat?" (Now named Stellaluna :-)


"I know it's a bit early yet, but I was wondering if you could fly about for a bit so I could take your picture."

"No problem.  I'd be happy to!"

Bats really are pretty agreeable if you aren't yelling at them and trying to swat them with towels.  Bats are very beneficial and, like so many other animals, are really struggling now.  I love having bats in our barn and I encourage everyone to do what they can to help protect these hard workers.

I used the Rocky and Jared sons and daughters Lamb Camp Legacy dark gray/brown yarn for the body. For the belly patch and the details around her ears I un-plied a strand of the medium gray and held it double with the dark brown.

The eyes are black glass and glued into the eye holes.  I've never tried that before, but it seems to be working just fine.  For the nose and mouth I took a short strand of the dark brown yarn and dyed it black.  I didn't add any fangs or teeth because she wanted to be a smiling bat :-).

The felt, before and after.  The felt is 100% wool I believe.  If it's not, it's only a very small percentage of acrylic.  It took the dye wonderfully.  It did shrink a little, but I was prepared for that.  Once it was dry I took a steam iron to it and it pressed into a luxurious fabric.  

Auntie Reg found a perfect button in her button box.  Not only is the size and color perfect, but if you can zoom in enough, the design looks very similar to the "spokes" of the bat's "fingers"!  A little early evening sunlight shining through topped it all.  We used velcro to fasten the wings/cloak so we didn't need to make a button hole.

As the barn bats started flying out last night, I set the little knitted bat out on the fence so she could watch them and she decided to stay out all night.  I hope she had a fun out flying around with them

.Good morning, Miss Bat.  Sleep well :-).

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

'Morning, Lancelot

In the morning I first check the field for the horses.  Sometimes they are both out grazing, but if I only Frankie is out there, I know where to find Lancelot.  He loves standing in his stall watching the sun rise.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023


I always like to see what happens when I post something sort of cryptic on Instagram.  How long it takes before someone comments that they've gotten it.  If I just get questions.  Or is the picture not even interesting enough to catch anyone's attention.  No takers so far today.

I agree.  It's not a very interesting picture...unless you zoom in.

Here's one half of the story.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Don't Quit Your Day Job

Last year I grew a completely accidental pumpkin patch and it was the most fun thing I've ever grown.  I had the best time watching the plants overtake a pretty big section of the side field and the pumpkins were all different sizes and colors and the sheep had two big pumpkin parties at the end of the season and I decided I was going to be a pumpkin farmer.  Pumpkins at Punkin's Patch!

This spring I picked out three different varieties of seeds (including one called Big Moose!), figured out my plant date for fall pumpkins and then found out the extension office was going to do a "Who can grow the biggest pumpkin in Harrison County" contest and I was All In.

I waited with great anticipation for the date I could go pick up my free pumpkin seeds and in the meantime strategized as only I can over-think things and gathered up special dirt and compost and researched and watched YouTube videos and created a baby pumpkin nursery and went ahead and planted my earlier chosen seeds out in a special safe zone in the yard, fenced off and everything.

Since all the volunteer pumpkins last year grew so well just laying out on top of the pasture, I thought if I made a little effort to amend the soil for each seed this year they'd really take off.  And I thought the Big Moose pumpkins could just live in the fenced area with the other pumpkins. I mean, how big could they get?

When I got the educational handouts from the extension office I found out that the Big Moose pumpkin getting labeled as a "giant" meant it was going to be...a giant.  Who knew.  I carefully dug as many of  those seeds as I could find back up and put them in starter pots along with the extension office seeds.  The rest of the seeds sprouted, but have not taken off in any sort of manner.  Pumpkin farming, not as easy as I'd hoped.

Four of the five extension office seeds sprouted and four of the five Big Moose seeds I found sprouted as well.  As the babies grew I made their fancy growing mounds, which involved lots of shoveling and moving of heavy materials on some really hot and humid days.  I was becoming less enamored with pumpkin farming by the day...but the baby pumpkins all grew well and looked good.

When the plants got big enough to transplant, I moved them into their respective mounds.  Four Big Moose plants and three of the extension office plants (I'll try to remember to come back in and update the variety) were planted in Del Boca Vista.  I put the biggest and strongest extension office plant out front, next to the driveway so I could really keep an eye on it, in preparation for the October 27th weigh in at the office.

I lost one of the Big Moose pumpkins in a wind accident fairly early on.  I moved a tiny volunteer from just outside the Wool House into it's open spot and babied it through some hot weather and it survived and is now doing a great job trying to catch up.

I'm concerned about these leaves turning yellow.  This is my biggest Big Moose plant...of course.  It's also the first one to produce any female flowers and now has two pumpkins growing along it's reaching vines.  I haven't decided if I'm going to limit it to only two in hopes of growing a true giant.  At this point I'm probably just going to be happy if I get any pumpkins.

This Big Moose plant did not look good yesterday and has not rebounded today so I'm afraid it's going to be a another casualty.  I've been carefully watching the plants for bugs and mildew and all sorts of other problems.  I've used diatomaceous earth and a couple of careful applications of organic Neem Oil in the evenings when the bees are long gone, but I don't have any control over the too wet conditions that may be causing some of my issues.  

Three of the extension office plants.

While my volunteers last year were big, hardy, heavy producers, the volunteers this year (probably a different variety) have been a bust except for a couple plants here and there.  This nice volunteer is growing out in the barn lot, so I have zero expectations for a pumpkin to reach maturity surrounded by sheep, but it's helping provide pollination for the female flowers in the main patch.

The bees, hard at work.

Oh, here's a funny story.  The first morning I knew I had a female flower ready to open it was drizzling rain.  The flowers are only open for a short time on one morning so there's just a small window where they can get pollinated.  I didn't think the bees would be out until the rain stopped, so I read up on how to manually pollinate it, grabbed my paint brush, picked up some pollen from a male flower and when I went to dust it into the female, two bees popped up and scolded me.  

"Do you mind?!?"

I shouldn't have doubted them :-).

I think this epistle basically catches everything up on the 2023 great pumpkin venture.  I have lost any expectation that it will be a Great Pumpkin venture, but I hope I'm wrong and will have some happy updates through the next couple of months.  

I'm glad I'm just trying to find something fun to do during my least favorite time of the year and not trying to feed my family.  Farming is not for the faint of heart and we all need to be cognizant of that fact and remember that food does not miraculously appear at the grocery store.

It would be nice to be able to feed at least a couple of pumpkins to my sheep family.

It is really hard to type pumpkin instead of Punkin.


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