Sweet Harmony Farm blog
I am a very slow knitter; therefore I weave. Occasionally I do knit and no, I’m usually not the person who knits a swatch first, although I know I probably should. Most of you faithfully knit swatches, right? This would mean that most of you also have accumulated a ‘swatch collection’ and what does one do with swatches?
One could make simple ornaments! I admit this idea is a ‘no-brainer’ and lordy, why didn’t I think of this myself. Hmmm, how lovely a Christmas tree will be decorated with alpaca!
Dig out your swatch box and put project swatches to good use making ornaments. Thin, drapey swatches will give the smoothest effect.
Materials: Glass or plastic ball ornament; knitted swatch (height and width similar to or slightly smaller than ornament circumference; exact dimensions are not critical, swatch will stretch to fit.); strong sewing thread, needle; ribbon (optional)
Directions: With right sides facing, sew two short ends of the swatch together to make a tube. Turn right side out. With a doubled length of thread, make a running stitch line along the bottom edge of the swatch.
From inside the tube, draw the thread tight and gather the bottom of the swatch into a tightly closed circle. Fasten off the thread. Pop the ball ornament into the swatch bag.
With a doubled length of thread, make a running stitch along the top edge of the swatch. Draw the top opening tightly closed, stretching the fabric slightly if necessary. Fasten off the thread. If you'd like, attach a ribbon for hanging.
From Knitting Daily, Interweave Knits, www.interweave.com
We love autumn and October in New Hampshire is especially beautiful. The maple trees’ leaves slowly turn to glorious hues of reds and orange, making the sky look so blue and the grass and fields so green. The air is wonderfully crisp and dry and there’s always a great breeze. It’s perfect weather for hiking. This is such a fabulous corner of the country to live in, and autumn our favorite season.
This is the time of year I switch to drinking more tea as coffee really doesn’t keep one warm, we go apple picking, we split and stack large piles of wood, we rake huge amounts of leaves, we cut down the perennials, we pull up the veggie garden and till back in large amounts of compost. I go back to cooking soups and casseroles and baking bread. As the days get shorter we lament ‘oh no soon it will be snowing once again’ but we wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else but here, where we have 4 distinct seasons.
It went from normal autumn chilly to downright cold just like that this week which of course now makes me concerned that the alpacas are cold. Yes they are livestock with super thick fleece so by nature are just fine in the cold weather. Yet here we are in the house, all of us ~ me, Dan, Stella, and our indoor kitty Gracie ~ all snuggled up near the woodstove so it’s hard not to want to bring the alpacas inside!
Dan is concerned too, so the other day he came home with some straw to put down for bedding for them. We have found out that hay that is on the ground will wick up moisture and not dry if it’s been rained on, so yeah, the alpacas would get cold. The straw is hollow and does not absorb moisture, so it’s perfect for them to snuggle on. We spread out a bale and it didn’t take long for them to all cush on it. Smart alpacas! We will continue to add straw on top of what’s there, layer upon layer, to keep them dry and warm over the fall and through winter. Apparently, if done correctly, there is a composting effect, therefore creating heat which does help to keep the alpacas warm.
Off to make soup!
Why do we all raise alpacas? Why, the fleece of course!
This year, 2009, has been named by the United Nations as the International Year of Natural Fibers. Alpaca fleece is a natural fiber! You can read about the United Nations’ overview of alpaca fleece at http://www.naturalfibres2009.org/en/fibres/alpaca.html. There has also been a non-profit organization established, in cooperation with Heifer International, to celebrate this United Nations declaration, called http://www.keepthefleece.org/. Their goal is to build the largest fiber flock in the world. What a goal!
We are so happy to be part of this growing community of alpaca fiber producers. We have lots and lots of bags of many, many pounds of fleece (well, for us it’s quite a lot!) and are still deciding on which fleeces to be processed where. Someday I will learn to spin, but for now we will send it out for processing. Some will be sent to our wonderful, local mini-mill, Sallie's Fen Fibers, to be made into yarn, some will be made into yarn through our preferred co-op, NAAFP, and still some will be made into wonderful rugs. Because this is still such a new venture for us, we prefer to get our own fleece/yarn back, which will also serve our ‘locally grown’ clientele well. But also as a business which supports a growing industry (alpaca textile), we realize that joining a co-op is a sound decision. The NAAFP co-op’s regional collection facility as well as their commercial mill is here in New Hampshire! So not only will the co-op’s yarns have our fleece in it, the co-op’s yarn is locally made in regards to our farm! We’re thrilled.
And how could we not be thrilled? Alpaca is the absolute best fiber there is!
Even though it is now October, it is still not too late to join in the celebration of the International Year of Natural Fibers. Whether you knit, crochet or weave, you’ll enjoy working with alpaca!
There are several horse farms and horse owners here in our town. In fact there are at least 6 horse farms/owners here on our street, plus the vet. Our farm is also within 7 miles +/- of three different feed stores, each selling 1 of the 3 major brands of alpaca grain/pellets (Poulin, Blue Seal, and Mazuri), all which also sell hay, so our alpacas will never go hungry. Because the overwhelming majority of livestock in our area is horses, the hay is usually 1st cut Timothy hay. There is certainly nothing wrong with 1st cut, especially when it’s still very green, but it does tend to be coarser and ‘stemmy.’ Alpacas will usually pull out the stems and not eat it, leading to quite a large amount of waste. Alpacas’ digestive systems requires a higher protein value than horses or cattle, so the hunt for green, grassy, 2nd cut hay for the fall and winter is on.
We purchased some 1st cut hay from our neighbor when our alpacas first came home. It was pretty green. The alpacas seemed to like it although they have definitely been pulling out the stems, and as a bonus they also seemed to enjoy grazing on what little grass we have growing in the pastures. Next spring we will have our soil tested so that we can fertilize the pastures properly. But right now it’s autumn and it’s getting cold outside, and our vet would prefer they put on some weight before winter. It will be easier to maintain their weight from then on, rather than trying to have them put some on during the cold weather.
We went over to a friend’s house yesterday to pick up a couple dozen bales of 2nd cut hay from his fields. Beautifully green, fabulous ‘just cut’ smell, and much softer to the touch! I pulled out the other hay from the feeder and re-filled it with the new hay. When the alpacas see me, they generally all come running (yes, it’s a nice feeling!) and run they did! They took a few good sniffs of the new hay, a few bites, then turned around and walked back out to the pasture. Silly, silly boys!! All except our littlest guy, Arlo, who happily eats hay from my hand. I’m guessing that because we’ve had some light rain occasionally the past few weeks, there must be new growth on the field that they like. Right now as I type, they’ve just come back from the pasture and are chowing hay! I guess they like it after all.
When I think of farms that have livestock, barn cats always come to mind. Because of all the feeds and grain that are stored, mice, rats, and other rodents would become rather prolific without the assistance of a good cat or two. I have always been the type of person who has indoor kitties, thinking that indoors is the safest place for a cat to be. I am also realistic and know that someday it will be necessary to have an outdoor cat now that we have alpacas.
We’ve taken precautions but also know that our current mouse-free situation is temporary for the short-term at best. We built the tack room with a solid floor, store the grain in metal trash bins in the tack room, store the hay in the tack room also, and sealed off cracks between the boards. We are currently deciding on where to put a ‘cat door’ for entrance into the tack room, as this will be the main place for a barn cat to get out of the weather. I am also researching the many wonderful rescue organizations that place feral cats into a barn home situation, stray and ‘street-wise’ cats that would be inappropriate for an indoor home.
That being said, Stella just loves to chase squirrels and chipmunks. They all always out run her, either hiding in a hole in the stone wall or running up a tall oak tree. I suppose you all know where this story is now going .......
We have lots of rocks, large boulders down to softball sized, piles of them here and there left to us after the loggers cleared. Dan loves to build stonewalls and he has plenty of rocks now to keep him busy for years. Stella hears the chipmunks squeaking, and she hangs around the rock pile for hours, fussing and whining, occasionally digging a little, and pouncing at every noise. She’s always done this, and we just let her be. The other day when we called her, she gleefully came trotting over to us, tail hanging from her mouth, and promptly deposited a mouse at Dan’s feet, just like a good kitty would. But she’s a Sheltie-mix dog!
So now we have a new nickname for her: “Stella, the Mighty Hunter!”
We’re having such a great time with the alpacas. They do have their individual personalities and over the past month, we’ve begun to decipher them. As I’ve mentioned, Julio is the self-appointed guard and leader. When he heads out into the pasture, the others all follow within minutes. When he heads back up to the barn, here they all come. In the evening after sunset, he stands by the paddock entrance and seems to scan the woods. When he hears something, his ears perk up and his body stiffens. We’ll sometimes shine the flashlight to see if we can see anything, but we never have. Sometimes we’ll hear a neighbor’s (it’s the country; neighbors aren’t exactly ‘nearby’) dog in the distance, but usually we don’t see anything. Then he’ll slowly walk off into the pasture, look around again, and start grazing. One by one, the others follow, and graze under the stars. They’re all such a friendly little group together.
But alas, that changes somewhat when food is involved! Fighting over food is normal in the livestock world as well in the wild. We try to make things as fair as possible, like one would with their own children. Some evenings they pleasantly eat their grain and then go back to the paddock and cush. Some nights the spit is flying! The usual instigator is Guinness, who for some reason seems to think that all the bowls are for him. Dan will try to move him from the others’ bowls, then everyone rearranges themselves; what a riot! We always put Arlo, our littlest and shyest guy, separate from the others or else he’d never get to eat, and I ‘stand guard’ by him until he is done.
And then there is the hay feeder. Usually all is fine, with everyone quietly munching. Then they see me getting more hay to add, and I’m usually bombarded by alpaca mouths. That’s fine as I can still easily add that flake or two into the feeder. Once again, Guinness seems to think the hay is all for him. His first victim is usually Julio who when it comes to fresh hay, always fights back. Yesterday the two went at it, spitting and screeching at each other for a good solid 5 minutes. The others were eating on the other side of the feeder but when the spitting started, they stood back with me out of the line of fire to watch the spit fight. What a riot my 2 geldings are!
But what we love the most is in the evening when the alpacas play. Either Coty will head butt Bo Jangles or vice-versa, the other returns the favor, and off they go. They’ll run gracefully together side by side around the pasture, stop for some head butting, wrangle their longs necks together, and roll all over each other. They make gentle snorting sounds as they wrestle and off they go again running. Sometimes they’ll head butt the others gently to join in the race around the pastures. It’s so beautiful and peaceful to watch, under just the moonlight and stars.
In a previous post, I had mentioned how our alpacas had easily adapted to their new home here on our farm, and that because they’ve been so calm, we’re kinda irked that they haven’t done something. Well, now they have!
They were all hanging out by the awning and hay feeder, cushed and chewing their cud, when suddenly they all leaped up, instantly alert, and Julio ran to the back of the pasture. He was intent on something past the stone wall. The others cautiously came to the end of the paddock and one by one they stepped out slowly into the pasture in a line, but never quite reaching Julio; Coty first and then Guinness, followed by Bo with Arlo bringing up the rear. Oddly enough, they were in a line from tallest to smallest. I called out to Dan who was in the garage and he ran out back along the east fence line. I got the binoculars and went out down the west fence line. Julio was definitely eyeing something, and the others were cautiously standing still and watching, with Bo constantly looking over his shoulder at Arlo as if to say “Don’t move! Stay right there!” When Dan got to the middle of the stone wall that follows the back of our pasture, Julio turned around sharply and ran up to the barn, nipping at everyone’s back end to hurry along. It was quite the sight to see them all running together as the herd that they are.
The fuss? Apparently there was a red fox sitting on the stone wall watching them. It started to run off when Julio approached, and Dan saw it run off into the woods. When Dan got to the stone wall where the fox had been, that’s when Julio called the gang back up to the barn. It’s good to know that our alpacas can distinguish between Stella and our neighbors’ dogs (no threat) and with a wild animal (big threat). Julio, being the tallest and heaviest, is the undeclared leader and guard.
Good boy Julio!
The next best thing to eating food fresh from the garden during the summer and fall is having it to eat during those cold winter months. I found this terrific article on the Farmer's Almanac website regarding preserving those wonderful summertime harvests and thought it perfect to share with all of you. The link to this article follows at the end. Enjoy! ~ Mona
Easy Ways to Preserve Summer's Bounty
In the summertime, nothing is better than fresh food straight from your garden or the local farmers’ market. Wouldn’t it be great to have these delicious fruits and vegetables available year round? Well, you can. Save money and eat healthy, tasty meals all winter long by preserving those homegrown fruits and vegetables. It’s easier than you think!
Freezing is a simple and convenient way to preserve food for several months. It slows food deterioration and stops the growth of bacteria. Food can be frozen in containers such as freezer bags (these are heavier duty than the thinner sandwich bags), plastic containers (butter tubs and whipped topping containers work well), canning jars, aluminum foil, or freezer paper. Remember – food expands as it freezes, so do not overfill containers.
Prevent cut fruits such as apples, peaches, and pears from darkening by first soaking them in a commercial anti-darkening agent or make your own solution by combining one teaspoonful of lemon juice to one quart of water. For many fruits, it is best to add sugar or a sugar syrup (see recipe below) to enhance taste and help the fruit retain its color.
Sugar Syrup Recipe
Light Syrup: Boil 2 cups sugar and 4 cups water. Makes 5 cups syrup.
Medium Syrup: Boil 3 cups sugar and 4 cups water. Makes 5 ½ cups syrup.
Heavy Syrup: Boil 4 ¾ cups sugar and 4 cups water. Makes 6 ½ cups syrup.
Cool syrup, then pour over fruit before freezing.
Fresh vegetables must be blanched before freezing. Blanching involves submerging vegetables into boiling water for a short period of time, then immersing them into cold water to stop the cooking process. Blanching kills enzymes that age the produce, resulting in fresher tasting food.
Home canning is another great way to preserve food. With canning, the food is placed in jars and is heated to a specific temperature in which food-spoiling germs are killed. This heat forces the air out of the jar, sealing it once it cools. Since bacteria cannot enter a sealed jar, the food can be preserved for a number of years.
There are two types of canners: a boiling-water canner and a pressure canner. The boiling-water canner is a huge pot in which jars can be covered with boiling water. This type of canner cannot reach temperatures high enough to completely kill all bacteria in jars no matter how long they are boiled, so this method is used primarily for canning
fruits and pickles since they contain natural acids that will prevent growth of bacteria.
Vegetables are more safely canned in a pressure canner where higher temperatures can be reached through the use of its tightly locking lid that holds steam inside the pot. A modern day pressure canner has a safety valve that will pop off if the pressure becomes too great, so do not worry about the unit exploding. However, precautions must still be taken. Never open the canner until it is fully depressurized. Once all pressure is released, open the lid away from your face so as not to be burnt by the release of steam.
What You Will Need for Canning:
- Canning Jars – Canning jars are made with thicker glass than standard jars to prevent breakage at high temperatures. Jars are available in different sizes and can be purchased by the dozen or found at garage sales.
- Lids and Bands – Lids and bands should fit the jars perfectly in order to obtain a good seal. Lids (or “flats”) should always be purchased new and must never be reused, as they may not seal properly a second time. Bands (or “rings”) may be washed and used again as long as they remain in good condition.
- Canning Salt – Canning salt is optional and enhances the flavor of the vegetables. Do not use regular table salt as this will result in soggy vegetables.
- Be sure jar rims are not chipped, nicked, or cracked, as this will prevent the lid from sealing.
- Do not fill jars to the top. Leave headspace so food will have room to expand while cooking.
- Remove air bubbles from the jar by sliding a plastic spatula between the food and sides of the jar. Releasing air bubbles will help ensure food stays covered in liquid.
- Wipe off food debris or salt from rims of jars so sealing will not be hindered.
- Before placing lids on jars, first heat them by simmering (not boiling) in hot water. Let lids sit in the hot water until ready to use. Any remaining bacteria will be killed during canning.
- Check jar seals within 24 hours of processing. Any jars that did not seal properly should be reprocessed (using a clean jar and new lid) within one day, or else the food should be refrigerated and eaten within several days.
- Thoroughly read all operating and safety instructions that come with your canner.
Now that you are armed with knowledge on how to preserve that delicious summer bounty, go ahead and plant those extra veggies or buy an extra bushel of fruit at the farmers’ market. When wintertime comes, you’ll be eating garden fresh!
Farmers almanac link: