Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Darning wool socks with felt

Winter! Cold artic blasts have dropped the thermometer to -25C here and we have had 2 ft. of snow in two days, last weekend with another foot expected in the next 24 hours. Average tempertures here for December are -8C. This is the 2nd week of cold.

No central heating here. Our log house is heated with a small woodstove in the studio. Can we say, "cold" floors, which mean cold feet. Time to find the wool socks that have been sitting in the mending basket since last winter. Mending is more eco-friendly than tossing, its also more economical. Mending used to be a standard life skill, but unfortunately the mending of clothing has gone out of fashion in our consumer based economy.

Great-Grandma used to keep her mending basket by the fire to work on at extra moments during the day. Since she spun her own wool, there was always materials at hand for the work. And the garments were sturdy, homespun, handwoven or hand knit fabrics and so were worth the time to patch. Today our reasons for taking the time to mend are different. The fabrics are no longer sturdy, but flimsy. They no longer represent hours of hand work and workmanship but are mass produced overseas, using cheap labour and machines. Made to wear out, to encourage consumption, they are made for the benefit of the manufacturer not the wearer. In fact, they don't even keep us warm and dry. Once worn out they are tossed in the landfill, increasing the burden on the environment. They don't break down -- as natural fibers do, but rather sit as a permanent deposit in the dump.

I am darning with a felting needle this year. Its quick and the socks are more comfortable since they have an even wool layer with no bumps.


Felted wool ball, about the size of a large orange
A bit of wool roving or carded wool -- it can match the colour of the sock or not
An Ashford student felting needle punch or other felting needle holder
3 felting needles (included with the needle punch)
Socks to be mended

Most of the socks I have to mend, have holes in the heel. I place the wool ball into the heel of the sock to be mended.

I take staple lengths of wool roving and place it in over the hole in the sock, being sure to overlap the good fabric in the sock. Just as in making other felt, I place at least three layers of wool over the hole, alternating directions with each layer.

I push the felting needles, held in the punch, through the carded wool and into the felted ball. (Be careful, the felting needles are sharp! They hurt if you get them into your hand instead of into the ball.) I continue felting with the felting needles until the wool is firmly felted. Periodically, I need to push my hand between the wool ball and the felt to ensure that they remain separated.

I check the felted patch for thin spots and apply more wool roving as necessary.

Total time to mend a small hole is less than 5 minutes. A large hole can be done in 15 min. A full basket of holey wool socks can be mended in this way, in an evening.

For larger holes or holes in the ball of the sock foot, proceed the same way, but use more wool and aim for 4 to 6 thicknesses of wool. When the wool is felted remove the ball from the sock. There will be a ball shaped bump in the foot of the sock. Work the sock to a flat shape and ease the wool patch with the felting needle by jabbing it at an angle into the wool. Since the felting needle has barbs on the first 1/4 inch of the needle tip, its not necessary to push the needle in too far to achieve a smooth, flat patch. Again check for thin spots and apply more wool roving as necessary.

I successfully patched several pair of wool socks with large holes by using this method and the sock owners report that the socks are more comforatable patched with felt than they are darned with thread. The patch is smoother.

Joybilee Farm has in stock, Felted wool balls, Ashford student felting needle punches and wool roving.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Open House

December 19, 20 (note the date change)
10 am to 4 pm, 3rd Annual Christmas Open House at Joybilee Farm, The farm will be decked out in its Christmas finery, with snow, holiday lights and a living nativity scene, where your children can dress up and have their pictures taken with our animals. Live music, spontaneous caroling, and refreshments. Come and do your last minute Christmas shopping for yourself or a loved one in a relaxed, joyous atmosphere, away from the malls. Purchase unique gifts in a homey setting and bask in the family Christmas atmosphere.

Candles for the dark days of winter

Bees wax candles ionize the air and reduce odors. They are dripless, smokeless, and fill the air with sweet honey aroma. They are free of toxic fumes and are health enhancing.

Last week the student made beeswax candles. We needed candles for the advent wreath and tapers for everyday use. We have a tin candle mold which is touchy and difficult to use. The student decided to hand dip her candles instead.

She melted a brick of beeswax in a recycled rectangular olive oil can, using a large stock pot filled with water as a make-shift double boiler. The beeswax was melted on medium and took about 3 hours to fully melt. It smells like honey as its melting and fills the house with sweetness.

Do not try to speed the process of melting by pushing down on the unmelted top layer. A volcano of hot wax over the stove, floor, cupboards and hands are the result and require several hours of clean up with heat gun and paper towels. So beware! Melted beeswax on hands can burn.

To dip 12 inch candles cut 30 inch lengths of wick -- usually a woven braid of round cotton cord. Fold the wick in half and dip into the melted wax, while holding the wick over a dowel. In times past a notched dowel was reserved for the purpose which could dip several candles at once. The student dipped one set at a time, holding it over the pot until the drips had solidified. Then removing it to a cooling rack. A wooden clothes drying rack served this purpose, with a wornout sheet under the rack to protect the floor. Its snowing so we couldn't do this outside.

After two or three dippings, the wicks are straitened while still warm by pulling down on the wick. After the candle is 1/2 inch thick, it is rolled on a counter to to bring it true. Even then the candles have a one of a kind charm. Not the mass produced candles found in the gallery stores.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Wool Commodity Pricing and Your Local Shepherd

Alpaca at $4 per lb. and wool at 17 cents a lb (August's wool market price) is the harsh reality in today's global economy. The cost of a commodity has no bearing on the cost of creating that commodity, but instead is driven by speculation on a stock/commodity exchange far removed from the people whose lives are impacted by the commodity.

International wool pricing (commodity pricing) does not reflect the actual value of wool (or alpaca, mohair etc.) nor the costs of production. In the US, wool used to be subsidized, so that the farmer was guaranteed a base price even if the world market price was down substantially. I'm not sure if this is still the case. The UN is trying to do away with all farming subsidies for every commodity. In Canada there is no subsidy for livestock farming.

The reality is that wool is not just a side product of sheep or alpaca raising. If we want to be able to get quality wool or alpaca or mohair from animals that have been selected for fleece quality, and cared for in a way that keeps the fleece as clean as possible, then their fiber is the main product.

When wool (alpaca, mohair etc.) is sold below the cost of production -- the farming operation becomes nonprofitable and farmer's get out of farming -- something we are seeing in North America at an alarming rate.

Alpaca at $4 a lb. is about $20 a year income from one animal. That alpaca is eating a bale of hay a week. Here that bale costs $6 -- other places only $4. There is no market in N. America for alpaca meat, although it is common food in S. America and in New Zealand alpacas grace the table in high end restaurants. The same animal consumes a lb. of grain a day -- 20 cents a lb. if you buy wholesale in 1 ton lots. Cost to raise the alpaca --$281 to $385 per year -- against value of fleece on commodity markets $20. Value of offspring from animal -- $70 at last week's auction sale, often you can't give the animals away. In my area most alpaca fiber direct from the farm is going at $20 to $30 per lb. Still not reflective of the cost of raising the animal and having it sheared. Shearing costs range from $20 to $50 per animal depending on the size of the herd.

The wool co-op in Canada was paying 17 to 23 cents a lb. last Fall for domestic wool. The average skirted fleece is 7 lbs. for wool breeds and 5 lbs. for meat breeds. (Commodity value of skirted fleece: $1.15 to $1.61 / Cost of shearing $5 average per animal, cost of wool bag to ship 10 to 15 fleeces $8) A wool breed generally needs twice as long to develop a carcass ready for the butcher -- and 6 sheep will consume a bale of hay in a week (2 ewes plus their 4 lambs)($72 per adult ewe and offspring, assuming no hay needs in summer pasture season) Cost of wholesale grain is 20 cents a lb. and each animal consumes 1 lb. a day. ($73 per adult and $75 per two lambs)The price of lamb to the producer is anywhere from $15 per animal to $100 depending on if the producer can sell direct to the consumer (now illegal in some provinces, like BC). The math: Cost to raise 2 market lambs and take their mother through the winter $220 plus $15 shearing -- $235 against value of the fleece and meat $202 -- loss to shepherd $33 per animal. In Canada there is an additional check off charge per sheep and lamb and a tag charge adding an extra $3 per head to the cost of raising lambs. Bring the loss to $36 per animal.

These figures do not take into account the farmer's time to feed, water, attend births etc. Nor do they allow any value for housing, fencing, vet bills, or predator control with dogs or llamas.

One could conclude that fleece or even lamb farming in North America is unprofitable and not in the best interests of farmers. Many have come to that conclusion and sold out their land to multinational interests. This is not in the best interests of the environment or the well being of the citizens of the country. Or one could reason that by asking just a bit more than international commodity prices one could steward the land and keep the environment for future generations.

Every one of us is free to choose to buy commodity priced wool at the world price this week and accept the quality in 1000 lb. bale. And in fact, if you consume 1,000 lbs. of raw wool each year, you definitely should buy it this way, without feeling guilty.

An alternative is to support the local farmer who is attempting to raise quality fleece in an environmentally sound way. But please don't expect any farmer to sell to you at commodity prices -- basically subsidizing your business to the detriment of his own.

Of course, the solution to this inequity to the fiber farmer is for the shepherd to refuse to sell their specially selected fleece as a raw product, but to instead value add and sell a finished product direct to the consumer. This is what we at Joybilee Farm are attempting to do.

As a fiberartist I am frequently offered free fleece -- both alpaca, llama and wool. I mostly turn it down because I have so much of my own. Those of you looking for large quantities of raw fleece might befriend your local fiber farmers. Many would rather give their wool away in friendship or barter than accept the insult that wool marketing boards and co-ops offer them.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Dye Gardens for the True North Strong and Free

We had our first and second snow in the last week. The garden is put to bed for the winter -- whether it was ready or not. We rototilled a new area ready for planting in the Spring and tilled in ashes for potassium and to buffer the natural acidity of our soil.

Now is the best time to start planning for next year's dye garden. Yellows, Blues and Reds are all necessary for a full palette of sustainable, renewable dye colours. From these we can overdye to achieve the secondary colours -- green, orange and violet.

Here's the catch. In our mountainous, Canadian climate we have no guarantee of any frost free period. We can have frost any day of the year -- even when the daytime temperatures top 45C (100F+). Our farm isn't considered arable, did you guess that? We can grow pasture, and grasses in the rocky soil, but we aren't very successful with vegetables that grow above the ground.

So my challenge these last five years has been to learn how to manage in this harsh climate and still grow a garden that's useful.

Dyer's Chamomile or Dyer's Marguarite

Dye plants that survive frost and produce yellows include Yarrow, Mullien, Golden Rod, Dyer's Chrysanthemum (Shingiku), Black Eyed Susan, and dyer's margarite (dyer's chamomile).

A natural dye bouquet

All but Dyer's Chrysanthemum are hardy perennials and so will produce for many year's with one planting. Many of these also make lovely bouquets. Dyer's margarite has a larger flower than regular margarite and will continue to produce flowers for the full season. Frost reddens the foilage making more attractive. Shingiku is used as a mildy spicy salad or stir fry green as well as being a prolific dye plant. It easily sets seed even after frost.

First year woad rosettes ready for the first harvest

For blues, there's only one choice: woad. It will produce blue even after a frost and remains evergreen under the snow. Pre 1900 it was used as a fodder crop during the winter, in Europe, after the dye season, when other plants were dormant. It has a spicy, mustard flavour in the summer but is similiar to Kale in winter. The dye extraction process is more complicated than with other dye plants but the resulting dye extract is similiar to other natural indigos in behavior and colour.

With pH alterations of the dye vat, the woad extract will produce reds, silvers, purples and greens. Its leaves will also produce yellows, pinks, and peach. A truly remarkable biennial that is hardy in our zone 3 climate. In B.C., woad is not considered a noxious weed, but in 10 western states it is. Check with your local authority to see if it is permissible before planting.

For reds, madder is the choice, protected under a thick mulch of straw and manure in a raised bed. Although our summer frosts prevent it from setting seed, the roots continue to grow in the soil and the pencil thick roots can be harvested every 3 to 5 years.

In our area, wild madder is a native plant -- from the bedstraw family. Its velcro like leaves and flowers resemble culitvated madder, but it is hardy enough to set seed in our frosty summers. I have been removing the plants from other areas of the garden and settling the seed in our madder bed. Given enough tender loving care, it is likely that it will produce enough roots to rival cultivated madder. I'll have to test this hypothesis in the next few years.

A bed of madder that's 3 ft. wide by 10 ft. long will give ample roots for a dyeing a few lbs. of yarn. To guarantee an ongoing source of madder, start the plants in a nursery bed and transplant after they get growing. 3 madder beds, harvested and replanted in succession, will give an ongoing supply of well formed roots. I haven't had the roots become invasive, but in a warmer clime they may. They can be container grown in a milder climate.

Madder needs a permanent location, as do the many perennial producers of yellow dyes. Woad is a biennial but only produces substatial blue dye the first year -- so it can be rooted out in the fall except for a few controlled plants that are allowed to set seed. Don't let it get away on you as the word "weed" originated from "woad". Woad should be rotated within your dye garden on a 4 year rotation. It shares the same needs and pests as the brassica family of plants.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

New "natural" yarns and your local shepherd

I was at a function last night – a soroptomist fund raiser. They had a fashion show by different local businesses (not us). I was astounded at all the push for the “new” natural fiber – bamboo. It was truly amazing to hear all the marketing phrases being parroted by the stores trying to sell this fiber as the eco-salvation of the fashion industry.

Phrases like – eco-fiber, wicks moisture, renewable, natural etc., ad nauseum. Wool was definitely a bad word or any animal fiber for that matter.

Bamboo fiber, is a poly-ester, like rayon, corn, milk, soy, tencel, and seacell. It is made by putting the organic material (organic as in organic chemistry – dealing with molecules of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen) into a chemical soup to dissolve it and then reconstituting it as a thread of fiber. Rayon is highly polluting, as it was originally patented. Tencel, corn, soy, bamboo, milk and seacell use a different patented process that reuses the chemical soup and then filters and neutralizes the final byproducts so that they are more environmentally friendly. But these fibers are not truly natural and do not occur naturally in the environment the way wool, cotton, linen, hemp, mohair, alpaca, angora, and silk do.

And the man made fibers behave just like polyester – they absorb oils, act like a dirt magnet and are never as insulating as the natural fibers are. I don’t know what they do in a burn test. In the case of bamboo – the fiber has become so popular that there is a danger of deforestation in China, as the bamboo forests are being harvested faster than they can regrow. Further, these fibers require the infrastructure of large factories and multi national chemical companies to create them – not small farms, with small carbon footprints and intimate relationships with their animals.

At the same time these fibers are being marketed as the vegan choice – without animal exploitation, or animal cruelty. Implying that all shepherds and animal caregivers exploit and are cruel to their animals which they make their livelihood from. I don’t know a single fiber shepherd that doesn’t invest their life wholly in the welfare of their animals.

So before jumping on the bandwagon for the "new" natural fibers, understand that they are not natural -- occuring naturally in the environment -- and they may not be as eco-friendly as the marketing gurus claim. Further, most are dyed with chemical dyes and so have other inherent environmental negatives. As with all purchase decisions that have ethical considerations, the actual reality is much more complicated than the marketers would have you believe.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Fresh Fleece for spinning or felting

The fall shearing is being weighed and sorted, and I am so pleased. After all the effort to keep the hay and vm out of the fleeces and still have happy, healthy animals, these are the cleanest fleeces we've ever grown.

Our lambs and kids were on pasture all summer and Ian sheared them before we had to begin feeding hay in October.

The colour is rich, the crimp is even, and the length is between 3 and 4 inches so a handspinners delight.

All our animals are raised for their wool -- we don't sell meat at Joybilee Farm, only fiber. So we breed for length, lustre and crimp. We use a long, luster wooled ram one year and a fine fibered ram the next to keep the length, softness, lustre and crimp in the fleece.

These fleeces are perfect for handspinning and for felting, with lustre and a rich, dark chocolate colour or a glossy natural white.

Our kid fleeces are a lustrous white, with a few coloured angora kids, too, in grey, latte, and black. Those should be posted on the website by Saturday.

We bought a Pat Green Cottage Industry Carder and Electric picker in June. We haven't had a chance to use it yet, but hopefully this winter we will be able to process our own rovings, too. I can't wait to test drive it with some of these gorgeous fleeces.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Woad colours

These pictures are from the student's science fair project on woad. This experiment was to test the effects of pH on the colour obtained from the woad vat. All were dyed in a reduction vat with the dye being reduced at different pH's.
Each silk sample was dipped for 15 minutes and oxidized for 15 minutes three times. All samples, except the green were rinsed in a weak vinegar solution after dyeing. All samples have been washed in detergent and water and rinsed in water again. No light fastness tests have been done.
Yellows, pinks and peaches can also be obtained from the woad leaves, after the indigo has been extracted. Pinks are obtained from an acidic vat and yellow after washing soda is added. The different pigments are soluable at different pHs.
Everyday woad yields more amazing discoveries. Yesterday the student extracted the DNA from fresh woad leaves. The DNA was blue rather than the usual muscus clear colour. We don't have an electron microscope in the kitchen laboratory so that was the end of the experiment. But rather exciting anyway.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Riches of Homesteading

"The reader may look back over every monetary convulsion he may be able to remember, and he will find that in all of them the agricultural community came through with less disaster than any other interest. Wheat grows and corn ripens though all the banks in the world may break, for seed-time and harvest is one of the divine promises to man, never to be broken, because of its divine origin. They grew and ripened before banks were invented, and will continue to do so when banks and railroad bonds shall have become obsolete." Ten Acres Enough by Edmund Morris 1872.

True enough if the agricultural community stays out of debt and lives frugally. Not so with farms mortgaged and farmers working a full time, off farm, job to pay for the farm. Homesteading is different than agri-business farming.

What's the difference?
The homestead is a self-sufficient economic unit based on a use-economy. The Homesteader meets his own needs first and sells the surplus of production with the intent of realizing a profit over expenses. The labour of the homesteader is not a commodity to be purchased, and thus the homesteader is a freeman. The Homesteader learns to live within his means, and so he remains free.

In contrast, the agri-business farm is a mono-culture, money making venture based on a capitalist economy. It specializes on infastructure, buildings and equipment to reduce manual labour and increase productivity. It solves problems with money. Farm labour is placed on the ledger as an expense and share holders must be paid along with the bank interests, before profit is realized. The farmer's needs are met out of the surplus, if there is any. Its no wonder most farmers are working off farm jobs to pay for the farm expenses. He is enslaved to the farm.

I read a report in CBC news on Thanksgiving weekend (October in Canada), that although agricultural expenses have risen over 25% this year (grain, fuel and fertilizer), food prices were holding steady at last year's prices. Farmer's were cutting margins in order to sell their produce. The consumers wanted the cheapest food possible. With farmer's working off farm to support the farm expenses and consumers demanding food at last year's prices -- our system cannot support itself. Just like the world stock market, the farm market will eventually hit bottom.

So you shop at the store and see that the cost of rice and flour has risen dramatically in price and all food stocks are up. The increase didn't go to your local farm. It went into the coffers of agri-business, marketing boards and the mulitnational food and chemical industry.

The key to correcting the injustice is to grow an organic garden and buy local food that hasn't gone through the hands of agri-business.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Homemade Soap: The Truth about Lye

At Joybilee Farm we've been making handmade soap since 1982. We specialize in milk soap because of its moisturizing and skin nourishing benefits.

We often receive inquiries about the chemicals that we use in our hand made goat's milk soap. There are a lot of misconceptions about what makes soap mild and moisturizing, as well as the role of sodium hydroxide (lye) and other chemical sounding things -- in soap making.

Only ingredients actually present in the finished soap need to be listed as ingredients on the label. So with most homemade soap, you won't find any "lye" or "sodium hydroxide" on the ingredient list. That's because properly made soap doesn't contain lye.

However, all soap – 100% -- must use sodium or potassium hydroxide in order to transform the fats and oils into soap. Soap is made by a chemical reaction called saponification, through the reaction of lye with fats and oils. Once the saponification is complete and the aging process has been fulfilled – 4 to 6 weeks in our case – there is no sodium hydroxide left in the soap. It has all been transformed into natural soap.

The goat’s milk that we use superfats our soap so that it is moisturizing as well as cleansing. Our soaps also contain all the naturally occurring glycerin, which protects your skin from drying out.

Our most mild soap is our Milk and Honey soap which contains no essential oils. This is the one we recommend for infants and those with sensitive skin. It is more mild than commercial detergent – which denatures DNA and cause your cells to collapse.

There are two kinds of lye that may be used to make soap. Potassium hydroxide is used to make liquid soap and Sodium hydroxide is used to make solid soap – both are “lye”. Sodium hydroxide is the product of the electrolysis of salt (aka sodium chloride) and water (aka dihydrogen oxide – H2O) – the other product is bleach (aka chlorine). Potassium hydroxide comes from water and wood ashes. Most commercial “soap” sold in stores today is actually formed from detergents and has had all the natural glycerin removed – glycerin is more valuable than the bar of “soap”.

We do not use citric acid in our soap. When it is used its role is to neutralize the pH of the soap. It comes from citrus fruit. Natural soap has a pH of 8 or 9 which helps it to cleanse. When citric acid is used it brings the pH to a neutral 7. Our skin is naturally acidic, so our skin to some extent neutralizes the soap as we lather with it.

The choice of oils that are used to make the soap are what determines if a soap is mild or drying. Any soap that is heavy on coconut oil is a very drying soap. When you are shopping for soap for yourself, you would want to avoid a soap that lists coconut oil as the first ingredient. The coconut oil adds lathering, sudsing properties and the best homemade soap will contain some, but mild soap should have no more than 1/3 to ½ coconut oil. You should look for a soap that has a liquid oil as the first ingredient – olive oil, canola oil, caster oil, jojoba oil, hemp seed oil, flax seed oil, for example – there are many options. Then there will be at least one solid oil mentioned either coconut oil, palm oil, or tallow. These are added to increase lathering properties and to make the bar of soap last longer. A person with sensitive skin should read the ingredients and ensure that one of these oils are not the first ingredient on the bar. If it’s the second or third ingredient, the soap should be mild enough.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Our environmental footprint and willows

We heat with wood.

Now, before you run right over and hug the trees there's some things you should understand. First, we have a modern, wood stove with catalytic converter, designed to burn wood fuel at peak efficiency.

Second, trees have a life span. "Weed" species trees -- the term given to native trees with no apparent commercial value -- colonize bare ground quickly and grow fast. These tree species -- poplar, cottonwood, willow, aspen -- grow so fast that they absorb huge amounts of carbon and nitrogen out of the air, giving off oxygen with their transpiration. They shelter the slower growing native trees in their shade. Their lifespan is a mere 30 to 50 years, if they are in a sheltered area.

When they drop their leaves in the autumn, this carbon is then put into the soil, acting as a carbon sink. When the tree is burned for fuel it releases less carbon than it absorbed in its lifetime, giving it a negative carbon balance.

These are the first trees to fall in a wind storm. By getting out of the way, they make room for other slower growing native species like pine, spruce, cedar and birch. We use these fallen or standing dead trees for our winter fuel. If they are left on the forest floor to decompose, they quickly build up the fuel for potential forest fires, so its important to clean them up -- especially close to the house.

Our acreage is about 70% forested, with the rest in creek bed, or natural grass pasture. As with most Canadian homesteads, our home, animal shelters and fenced gardens occupy less than 1 acre of our 1/4 section, insuring a low environmental impact. That's responsible stewardship of the land -- God's land.

To take further advantage of the benefits offered by willows, Joybilee Farm grows 15 varieties of willows that we manage as an annual or biannual coppice planting. These willows are mostly imported basket willow varieties, with a few ornamental types, that offer a banquet of colours and textures throughout the growing season. They are easy to care for and give us ample materials for basket weaving, garden poles, furniture making and animal fodder or wood, as well as floral bouquets.

A willow coppice managed on a 5 year rotation can be used for wood fuel, offering fast growth, carbon sequestering, and a renewable fuel. As well as ornamental bark colours and leaf shapes, willows offer early bee fodder, summer shade, and habitat for song birds and wildlife. A willow planting can also renew land that has toxic soil and can be used as a pollution and sound buffer in industrial areas. Some species of willow are used in stream bank stabilization and marsh reclamation. There are willows for every climate zone.

Then there are the medicinal benefits of "weed" trees -- Balm of Gilead from the sticky cottonwood buds, salycilic acid from willow bark -- both are anti inflammatory, anti viral, and anti fever. Willow also contains a natural rooting hormone -- more efficient and environmentally safe than commercial chemical preparations that contain toxic fungicides.

Willows are a gift, that helps us steward the land and live a healthy, vigorous life.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What to do with the Whey?

Recipe: Ricotta Cheese
Time: 1 to 2 hours

1 pot of fresh whey, leftover from cheese making
1/4 c. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt

Heat pot of whey on the stove over medium heat until whey reaches a temperature of 90C. Add 1/4 c. lemon juice. Fine curds will form and rise to the top of the whey. Continue heating for 10 minutes, stirring so that curds do not burn.

Line colander with cheese cloth (I use gauze diapers purchased for cheese making). Pour whey through cheese cloth and allow to drain over night. Reserve this liquid. It can be added to soup stock. It is a nourishing animal feed or it can be added to your compost pile. When curds have cooled and drained mix in salt and refrigerate.

This can be used in cheese cake recipes, or as a filling for pasta, or in any recipe that calls for cottage cheese or ricotta cheese.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Making Goat Cheese: Mozerella

I've been making cheese from our goat's milk for 8 years. I make it when milk is abundant and keep it in the freezer for the winter, along with lots of frozen milk. We eat all the cheese I make. Yummy!

Here's the easiest cheese recipe in the world. No need to culture it as the citric acid does the work. Don't forget the salt, like I sometimes do.

Joybilee Farm Mozerella Cheese
Total time 1 to 1 1/2 hours

2 tsp. citric acid crystals
2 gallons (8 litres) of fresh goat's milk, strained and still warm (85'F)
1/2 tsp. liquid rennet mixed in 1/4 c. water
1/2 to 1 tsp. of sea salt

Mix citric acid into 1/4 c. warm water and stir until fully dissolved. Stir into goat's milk. Allow to sit for 15 minutes. Stir in rennet solution and stir for 30 seconds to fully mix. Allow to sit undisturbed for 45 min. to 1 hour. Cover bucket to keep out dust, insects, etc. Curd will solidify.

Cut curd by stirring with a spoon or cutting with a knife. Allow to sit for 15 minutes until curd sinks to the bottom of the bucket and whey separates.

Strain out whey into a microwavable dish -- I use a glass bread pan. Stir up curd and remove as much whey as possible. Add salt to taste usually 1/2 to 1 tsp. It is the salt that gives this cheese its flavour.

Microwave on high for 30 seconds. This will partially melt the cheese and allow you to begin the stretching.

If the cheese is too hot to touch, do the next step with two spoons until you can handle the cheese safely. Begin by kneading the cheese within the glass dish, as you would bread. Drain off any whey that seeps out. Once the texture changes and becomes more stretchy, you can pull the cheese into a rope and fold it back on itself, several times.

To finish fold into a loaf and allow to cool at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Slice or grate. It melts well. Use for pizza.

Introducing 747

747 is a coloured ewe living at Joybilee Farm. She was one of a pair of triplet ewes that were born on a farm in Alberta and came to us as a ewe lambs. She earned her name and reputation on her first shearing day as a hogget. When Ian tried to grab her to shear her, she leaped into the air and flew across the barn floor, upsetting Ian and Sarah in the dash.

In 2007, 747, then 3 years old and moorit in colouring, stole her sister's lamb. What an unusual behavior! We took the lamb away and gave it back to her sister. A few hours later she had the lamb again. This went on for a few days.

When she came close to deliverying her own lamb we realized something was wrong. She went past her due date and didn't go into labour. About two days later we found her by herself pushing, but no lamb. On checking inside her we realized her lamb had died and was turned sideways with her back presenting to the birth canal. We had to help her deliver her dead lamb.

She was so sad. She wanted to have a baby but her baby was gone. She licked it off and then laid down with her face to the wall, refusing food and water. There was not to be done but to retrieve her sister's lamb and let her have it.

Her behavior toward this adopted lamb was interesting. She never sniffed its tail, a common behair of ewes, who remember their lambs by smell. But she suckled the lamb. After 2 days, she rejoined the flock and for the full season shared her sister's twin lambs. She was a wonderful mom and was happy to feed any other lamb that wanted extra milk, never sniffing a tail or rejecting a lamb.

This Spring (2008) 747 had a male lamb, delivered without problems. I hadn't been into the barn for a few days, since our flock manages most births without assistance. Robin kept me informed of the progress of our flock.

About 4 days later, a black angora buckling was born and I went out to see our new boy. We are always thrilled when a coloured angora is born and he was a huge single kid worthy of our oohs and aaahs.

747 came into the barn when I arrived and let out a deep, "Baaaaaaah, Baaaah". My attention was fully on the new buckling and I ignored her. She repeated her "Baaaah, Baaaah" and stomped her foot.

I looked up. "Hi, 747. What's up?" I asked.

She took a step to the left and revealed her white ram lamb at her side. "Oh, what a beautiful boy! You've outdone yourself, " I said.

She nodded, "Baaa!" And walked out of the barn, leaving me with thoughts of the misunderstood intelligence of sheep and the symbiotic relationship between shepherdess and sheep.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Surviving Hard Times

We’ve been farming our eco-fiber farm for 6 years now and derive 100% of our income from our fiber farm and fiber arts business (supplemented by our savings in slow months). Our business has been fine tuned over time – beginning with a lot of test products and narrowing down to fewer products that seem to sell. We have been buying less and less wholesale products for resale – instead focusing on our own ethically raised fiber. Selling the farm story has been increasingly important, as our local market is necessary to our success.

Two things that have improved our bottom line this season – with a lower tourist turnout, and high energy costs – offering farm tours that emphasize the fiber farm aspects, telling the farm story, which includes entering the conversation on local sustainable food, emphasizing that it isn’t just food but textiles as well that must be local and sustainable, for the well being of our communities, and our local farms.

The second thing was opening the fiber studio to the public via the ARTISAN signage on the road. We had quite a few people drive in on a whim when they drove past the sign. These two things required that we upgrade our public liability insurance, which increased our insurance cost by $1,000 this season. But when we looked at the bottom line – this expense was well covered by the increase in sales that resulted in these two changes.

Some management principles that have helped us weather the storm – we avoid debt – both business and personal and so are able to curtail spending when the money is tight and purchase things when the money is flowing. We do use credit cards but pay them off at the end of each month. We purchased our farm without debt and saved enough before quitting the day job to sustain us for 5 years, while the business got off the ground. The current stock market melt down may cause a problem for us but we aren’t seeing it yet.

We do things ourselves rather than pay a professional – Robin is a CGA and does all our bookkeeping, taxes and financial statements for our farm business. We learned to build our own website – it isn’t perfect, doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of other websites – but it allows us to make weekly or even daily changes, which keeps us high in the search engines. Rather than pay a professional for labels, we use a graphics program and design and print our own labels, business cards, etc. This allows us to change the format on a whim and fine tune our marketing materials, as necessary.

Things I'm working on this season:

We need to improve our road signage and are in process of building a larger, more targeted sign that emphasizes the fiber farm aspect of our business. Our original sign was stolen in July and a temporary fabric banner sign was put up to get us through the summer tourist season.

I also need to spend some time writing up my knitting designs into proper patterns. Kits are selling well for us – whereas last year it was the finished goods that sold better.

Finally, when I begin to worry about finances or the current economic crisis in the world, I look around me at all the blessings that God has poured out on my family and remember to be grateful for the clean air I breath every day, and the sparkling clean spring water I drink, and the acres of green trees, mountains and land that I walk on – and the intimate relationship I have with the sheep and goats I shepherd. While others are watching their stocks loose value at the whim of speculators, my stocks stand up, kiss me and eat from my hands.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Joybilee Farm Eco-fiber farm

In these pages I'd like to share our homeschooling adventures, our fiber arts experiments and our simple life of faith.

The summer is coming to an end. Its been a different summer than other years -- colder, more rain. The zucchinis are slow growing and we've only had 4 small ones. Can you believe it? I'm still waiting for the first female flower on the pumpkin vine to grow. Its the end of August. But, Tomato sauce is being pressure canned on the stove tonight from 90 lbs. of tomatoes. Another 120 lbs. of tomatoes are sitting on the kitchen floor waiting their turn. Thankfully, we live near an abundance of food.

12 of our angora goat kids have been sheared and another 15 are waiting for next week. I want to get the fleeces off before we have to start feeding hay for the winter. We've had lots of rain this summer so the grass is still lush -- hopefully for another month. We'll have the cleanest fleeces we've ever had -- almost no vm in these gorgeous kid fleeces.

The farmer's markets are finished for the season and homeschool starts on Tuesday.