Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Rambling Projects and Garden excitment..

It took one Stanley Cup playoff game to finish up the pink tunic.  It's been waiting around for an awfully long time to get hemmed.  The neckline needed a small modification and the Bayeux stitch animal cuffs were added.  It turned out quite nicely I think.   I wore it to a school demo and was quite pleased with the fit.

More Stanley Cup spinning took place as well.  The black skeins are Shetland and it's lovely, soft and clean fibre.   I really wanted to use a long draw but it just refused to cooperate, unless I reprocessed the rovings by hand, which wasn't happening.  Instead, spun it with a short draw.  It took much longer to spin but I'm very happy with the results.  I still have a few yards of  black roving to to spin.  It may be the end of the prepared roving for Stanley Cup spinning and  I may also have to card as well..   Hmm I guess that is what intermissions are for?

Garden excitement is also happening.  The tomato plants are looking quite nice.  The peppers are slowly growing.   Actually almost all of the seeds I started are in reasonable shape considering there is almost a month yet before they should be planted.   Except the parsley.  It's old seed.  It's also slow to germinate.  I may have to buy a plant this spring..  egads!  I don't think my sage plants made it through the winter either, so that's two plants on the needed list.

Tiny Indigo Tinctoria Seedlings
The indigo seeds I'd planted earlier have done nothing.   After doing a bit more research, it turns out that Indigo Tinctoria likes warmth as in 24C constant temperatures to germinate.  One suggestion is to put the pots on a heat mat.  It also helps to soak the seeds overnight.  We keep our house cool and I don't own a heat mat, so I soaked a paper towel, sprinkled a few Indigo seeds on it, folded it up and slipped it in a plastic sandwich bag.  I put the bag on the rack over the grow lights, so it would get some heat for at least part of the day.  A couple of days ago, there were a few spots in the paper towel. I opened it up to reveal some sprouted seeds.  I planted these in soil.  I really wasn't sure that any would survive, but so far of 8 seeds germinated, all 8 are still looking alive.   That spurred me on to plant some Madder, Dyer's Knotweed and some Chinese Woad as well.   All the seeds are last year's so we'll have to see how well they germinate.
The first full sized daffodil of the season.  It's growing in the middle of the lawn, presumably planted their by our feisty grey squirrel.  You'd hardly know that we had a squirrel nearby at all except for an occasional rustle of branches.  I did see him at the bird feeder a few times this winter.  He was no skinny little runt of a squirrel!   However I'd have never thought to plant a daffodil in the middle of the yard.  It turns out to be a lovely place for it, so he can stay and eat the leftover bird seed.  After all, I'd see up to 20 crows there at once, so what difference could 1 squirrel make?

Oh yes, and somebody, please make it stop raining!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Wildlife in the yard

Yesterday coming home from a quick trip to a nearby town for a forgotten item, as my sweetie was pulling in the driveway, he noticed something in the ditch and said "that's not a raccoon is it"?   Yep it was, a very confused but determined juvenile animal.  He wasn't very large at all and still very cute.  I'm betting that his/her mama was ready to have babies and chased him out of his den.   The only problems for him in our area would be dogs.   The neighbour's two dogs pretty much roam free thoughout the area and do a daily sweep of their territory.   They're friendly dogs and sometimes at night you'll hear them make a huge racket, when something that shouldn't comes too near.   We have a dog, who doesn't go outside a lone, but he doesn't like the wandering feral cat or the bunnies coming too near the house.  I don't imagine he'd be any happier with a raccoon nearby.  Beside us is a Standardbred Horse breeder who has a dog as well. 

So this poor baby raccoon is trying to find a place to go.  He's coming from the direction of the farm with 2 dogs.   He's terrified of the vehicles on the road.  He's trying to cross our place, but my sweetie is yelling at him and trying to get him to move on.   It doesn't matter where he goes, unless he crosses the road and finds a home in the bush lot there, which may very well be where he came from, there are dogs on our side of the road and it's not very welcoming for small animals.

He was curled up by a large pine tree, hiding when I left for a meeting after supper.   When I got home, my sweetie said the neighbour dogs were wandering by our place when the big one caught the scent of something and tore off.   A few minutes later, she came by on the way home, with something in her mouth.  He did assure me it wasn't furry, but it was  a good size.   I'm hoping it wasn't the young raccoon; that he found a safe haven someplace before the dogs found him.  While we didn't want him living in our yard, we had hoped he'd  be able to find a safe place to call home.  However, there have been a lot of young raccoons on the roads lately, so perhaps this is one way of keeping the population down.

It's really not fair that such a potentially nuisance animal is so awfully cute when young.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Chooks and Stanley Cup Spinning

I woke up in a panic last Saturday morning as I'd suddenly remembered that the new chicks were due soon.  We'd started getting the little barn cleared out for them ages ago but people got distracted.  Like the rest of everything we've found here, it was far worse than expected.  The amount of junk stored in there was amazing.  We've been having bonfires every evening and we've hardly put a dent in just the old wood bits we've found.  There was a huge shelf piled with heavy pieces of wood.  We can't figure out how it stayed up since there wasn't a single nail holding it together, no pegs, screws, nothing but balance and a bit of luck I suspect.   The one side of the barn has a cement floor in relatively decent shape.  One would expect, from the way it was that the rest of the floor would be cement as well.  Nope, they hacked out most of the cement floor on the other side of the barn, but not all.  They left parts of it and rough edges.  They put old skids on top of the remaining dirt and allowed small and larger rodents to make their homes there.  This means there is lots of icky stuff to shovel out.   However, after days of work, my sweetie had a space to put the brooder together.  I ran around finding all the bits and pieces.  Today, I picked up the new babies - 45 of them, 35 for the freezer and 10 layers.  It's still pretty cold here and so windy today that even with 2 lamps on full strength it isn't warm enough, so I'll be hunting down things to cover the brooder with until either the weather warms up a bit or they start to feather out. 

In other news, it is the hockey playoffs.   We don't actually get enough t.v reception to get the stations which show the games, but we seem to be able to stream it this year.  So my computer gets commandeered for the games, which seem to be every single night right now.  I had forgotten how productive hockey games were for spinning sessions.   This is so far my play off yarn.  If I do this every single game, I might have a mountain of yarn to deal with by the finals!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Garden Update

Yesterday, I decided I'd spent way too much time inside during the past couple of days.  I went outside and it was finally dry enough to start digging in the garden.  There were a few places where the Creeping Charlie was encroaching, so I started with that.   There are a lot of trees on our property and there seems to be no end to branches and limbs to collect after both the winter and a good wind storm.  I hunted about and found some fallen, long branches which were still fairly strong.   After gathering them up, I took 4 of a similar size and lashed them together, planted the wide end in the ground and then planted peas along the sides of my stick pyramid.  The peas should climb up the strings, giving them much better support than my two poles with netting that I used last year for the pole beans.

There were enough to make three of these "bean" towers.  Two will stay empty until it's warm enough to plant beans.  When the peas are done, I'll plant beans in that one.  Despite the rather rustic look, the  bean towers don't wobble at all.  They should be much sturdier than last years 2 x 2's and climbing plant netting, which were incredibly unstable and the plant netting sagged like anything.   

I found a few small patches of spring bulbs which survived the dismal flooding and freezing weather earlier.  Of all that bloomed last spring, only a few small patches have done so this year.  I may use that as an excuse to start digging up the flower beds.  With many of the bulbs not surviving this year and the realization last spring that there were few flowering plants at all as the person who started these preferred a more subtle approach - as in most of it is shades of green, it may just be time to get rid of the green and add colour in the way of brilliant flowering perennials and lots of spring bulbs.

Yesterday, my son decided that the old firepit was done for and needed to be rebuilt. The old firepit was the inside liner of a washing machine.  It was starting to fold in on itself and disintegrate after probably 20 or 30 years of use.  He dug it out,  then scoured the fence line for rocks and built a very pretty rock fire ring.  It's a bit larger and much prettier than the one before and will stave off having to replace the base for another year or two.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns were a childhood treat.  My mother didn't make them though, she purchased them.  I remember loving the taste and the raisins, but picking out all the candied peel.   I haven't seen any in the stores this year, so I made my own.  The first batch was nice but not perfect.  They must have been okay though because they disappeared in a few short hours.   The second batch, tweaked a bit, tasted even better according to my testers!  There is no candied peels in these buns because I had none on hand.   If you want to add some, I'd reduce the raisins to 1/2 cup and add 1/4 - 1/2 cup candied peel.

Hot Cross Buns

4 cups all purpose flour
4 tbsn honey, divided
1 scant tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup raisins
zest of one lemon
1 packet regular yeast or 2 tsps regular yeast
1 cup warm water
~1 cup milk (more or less, depending on humidity and flour
1 tbsn oil

Piping mixture
4 tbsn flour
water to make paste

Add 1 tbsn honey to 1 cup warm water.   Sprinkle the yeast over top and allow to proof.    Combine  flour, remaining honey, oil, salt, spices, lemon zest and raisins. When yeast is ready, add to the flour mixture. Stir it in, adding the milk as needed.  Depending on the humidity, flour etc, you may need a bit more or possibly a bit less milk.  Knead dough until smooth and elastic.   Lightly grease a bowl large enough for the first dough rising.  Pat the dough into a nice ball, place in bowl and cover.  (plastic wrap or a tea towel will work just fine)   Place the bowl in a warmish, draft-free place to rise.   When the dough has doubled in size, punch down gently.  Divide into 12 equal size balls and put into a greased 9 x 13 pan to rise.  When the dough balls are double or nearly double in size, put the flour paste in a piping bag and pipe large X's on the tops of the buns.    Bake at 375° F  for approx. 25 minutes.  Check after 20 minutes.   Makes 12 servings

Notes -  if using an egg wash, it goes on before the crosses!  
One could add butter instead of oil for a richer taste.  I don't have a microwave and decided it wasn't worth another dirty pot just to melt butter.
I added nearly 1/2 cup extra milk to make a good dough.
If you don't have a warm place for it to rise, the yeast will still do it's job, but it will take longer.   You could mix this dough up in the evening, toss it in the fridge to rise overnight and continue the process the next morning with no harm to anything.  

Historical stuff:  There are apparently notes showing that they were quite popular and regulations regarding the baking of Hot Cross Buns, in the 1500's.   Loaves marked with crosses have been found dating to 79CE.    I've read one place dating them to 1200 and another suggesting that buns marked with crosses were from at least Saxon origins.  Another bit of info suggests they were used as alms bread during lent.  

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Spinning, spinning and finally weaving

Monday ....  found the grey locks, I think it's Romney.  It's very soft and lovely to spin, although a few bits are full of VM and other trash.   I spun one bobbin full and started on the second.  Loom is warped and ready to weave.

Tuesday... finished the rest of the easily useable grey but there won't be enough for the shawl weft, even if I take the time to clean the chaff and VM from the last few locks.   I dug through the stash and found  a lovely brown roving.  Wasn't sure there would be enough of it so I grabbed a huge pile of what seemed to be a slightly darker brown.  It was a cloudy, miserable day with flurries on and off all day and the ambient light really did make the roving look brown.   I spun up a bobbin full, realizing that it was black while my kids tried to reassure me it was just dark brown.  hehehe.. Got a second bobbin started.

Wednesday...  finished spinning the second bobbin.  It was more cloud, snow and rain outside.   I swear I spent half the day trying to watch the seedlings grow.   I plied the two bobbins into two skeins.   I have now about 337 yards of black, plied wool for the weft.  I'll need at least another 400- 500 yards according to my calculations.  I switch the sett at the beginning.   I was pretty sure that the EPI of 9 wasn't quite right.  I used 10 instead.  I think that small change will make a big difference.  It will however probably increase the amount of weft I need too, if I'm aiming for an even twill.

Today.... after fixing a couple of crossed threads and crawling around under the loom to re-tie all the treadle.. now that is lots of fun, I'm finally weaving.   While the black, or dark brown, really does show black and not the grey which is from all the sunshine today.. YAY for sunshine...  I think the shawl will be much more versatile this way than if I'd actually used the lighter brown I'd first decided on.   I do love when things come together in the end.

As a bonus, the seeds that didn't germinate yesterday, despite my watching them, have germinated today..  Some tomatoes, cabbages, summer savory, winter savory, marjoram, soup celery have all made their appearances!  Still waiting on a few things and still have to plant a few more..  some need to be started only 3 or 4 weeks early but the woad, madder, indigo and dyer's knotweed should get started soon.. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

What was I thinking?

Two days ago, I found some skeins of yarn.  Various bits and bobs, leftover from other projects, or from smaller, sample amounts of fibre.   There were all in shades of browns, from quite dark to a light tan.  I also found a large pile of lovely grey washed fleece..  Immediately this vision of a shawl appeared; a gorgeous plaid type checky pattern in grey checks on a brown background.  It would be soft and old fashioned looking.    Excitedly I wound the warp.  Halfway through I realized that checky pattnerns or plaids require some sort of forethought and planning, to make sure you have enough fibre.   Leftovers just generally don't cut it!  How I even thought I'd have enough fibre is one of those odd things because I barely had enough for the warp.  

The warp is now random stripes of colour, as evenly spaced as I could get them.   It was only 312 or so ends, so the heddles and reed were threaded last night and this morning, I wound the warp on, checked the tension and it's ready to go..   Right... Weft?    I don't need no stinkin' weft.. or do I?   I thought the grey would be a lovely weft.  I've been spinning it up.  My perceptions of this huge pile of grey turned out to be wrong.  When done I think I'll have 2 bobbins of singles.  When plied that will make maybe 2 full skeins which won't be nearly enough for the weft.  The only other yarn I have spun up with enough to start is the blue Merino and Blue Faced Leicester.  I really am not sure I want to mix blue with these browns.   I may go stash diving this afternoon and see what else I've got hidden away.  Then it will be a spinning marathon so that the warp doesn't sit forlornly on the loom waiting for my enthusiasm to wane.

The last  bit of the Bayeux embroidery experiment is done.  I'm very happy with this piece.    I've plans for more but this shawl will have to get done first.

Look what I found in the garden yesterday.   We've had bizarre spring weather.  Loads of rain, then it freezes and it all starts again.   Sunday night it started to snow; a nasty, heavy, wet snow.  At 3 am we had a rip, roaring thunderstorm.   No, I didn't sleep through it, but was instead on the couch with a terrified dog huddling beside me and a cat needing attention plunked down on my lap. Yesterday mid morning the rain finally eased off and the snow actually started melting.  I found these poor babes in a small corner.  Last year there were many more of them but I think the frosts, thaws and floods have not been kind to the bulbs this spring.