Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day

There's something special about a date that only happens once every 4 years. Any leap year babies out there? I wonder how I would feel if my birthday only happened twice a decade, give or take.
My aunt Pam's baby is due soon, I'm going to have a new little cousin. A girl to shower with all kinds of nice, girly, homemade things. Though she's not due until the 8th of march, part of me couldn't help but wonder if perhaps I'd have a leap day cousin.
Scouring my collection of patterns for a quick and easy baby present, since I've put it off way too long.... any ideas?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Keep a Weather Eye

Part of the reason I want to become a homesteader/farmer is a desire to get back in touch with the world around me. The real world, the world that matters. Like the moon phases, the seasons, weather patterns. What different animals do at different times of the year. And what it all means to a person who doesn't just live on this planet, but with it. I wanna know more about the food in my body, the clothes in my back and the roof over my head, I don't just want to pay for them.
I like that through the humble beginnings of syrup making I now check the forecast every day, and have some inkling of what that means for the food being produced for my belly. It's a start.
I want to continue this awareness throughout the growing season this year, not just dump veggie seeds in the garden and weed and water sporadically. I want to give my garden it's best shot at higher yields.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Liquid Gold

I can't get over how dark and how sweet it is, straight out of the tree!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fat Tuesday

Happy Mardi Gras folks!
I was fixin to make up a fantastic jambalaya over here, and get some real cajun smells and tastes going in the house. My family however has a much less adventurous palate. Instead it will become a pancake tuesday, with fluffy pancakes (and because having both pancakes and king cake seems gastronomically redundant, I'll be hiding a bean in one of the pancakes... hehe!!) . A shame it's not a few weeks later, we could have had homemade maple syrup on them! For tonight, Aunt Jemima will have to do, but I'll also bring out toppings like butter, jam and apple sauce. I'm gonna try to sell them on pancakes made from scratch. It's all about reintroducing the folks to real flavours, and leaning away from preservatives.

Monday, February 20, 2012

First Sap

Only about a tablespoon in each bucket, but it's running!

Carding and Spinning

Today I finally started carding and spinning my wool, using the spindle that I picked up from my sweetheart yesterday.
To card the wool, I'm using slicker style dog brushes. They use the same type and shape of pins that hand carders have, though I find the bristles softer than hand carders I've seen at pioneer villages in the past. It just means that I have to use a couple more strokes to card the wool.
I found these brushes at the dollar store, and I think they cost 1.50$ each. While they are smaller than the paddles on traditional carders, and I can't card as much wool at a time, I couldn't argue with the price. I priced new hand carders in my area and found them around the 40-70$ range. I'll stick with dog brushes, thanks.


Then, I load up one brush with 3-5 locks of wool, cut ends towards the handle. I then brush from the cut ends to the tips until the wool is pretty uniformly fluffy, and evenly distributed between the two brushes.

Next use a scooping motion with the top brush to scoop up all the wool from the other. Now all the wool is on one brush.  I roll the wool off the pins (towards the handle), to make a thick cigar type shape. Now this roll of wool, called a rolag, is ready to be spun. I'll do my best to explain that process in the upcoming posts, but it's tricky to both spin (which takes two hands) and take pictures. I found a great set of instructions here. That might be your best bet for learning to hand spin. I'm new at this myself!

Tada!! Suddenly the fleece is yarn! Thanks for the spindle honey!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

On Tap

That's right, I've now got sap on tap. Or rather, on 4 taps.

I went over to my friend's house today, it's past time to be tapping the trees in this weird season, and we decided that today's the day. Of course, today's about the only cold day we've had all month, but at least the spiles are in place now.

Dar met me in the garage and explained the process to me.
First we'd be drilling holes at an upwards angle, about 1.5 inches or so into the tree with a 5/8 drill bit. Then we use a special, high tech tool (a twig pulled off the nearby brush) to clear the wood shavings and check the depth of the hole. Then we push the narrow end of the spile into the hole and gently tap it into place with a mallet until it's firmly seated. The hook that hangs off the spile has to support the sap bucket. If you can wiggle the spile with your fingers, it's likely going to fall out of the tree and spill your precious sap all over the ground.

When we get to the tree the next obvious question is where to put the holes. As far as height goes, it needs to be high enough to suspend the bucket below it, and low enough that it will be easy to lift down the buckets, even when they're heavy with sap. Pictured at the right is a plugged hole from last season. Dar fills her holes in with pieces of wine corks to help the tree heal quickly. Any holes recent enough to be visible like that should be avoided by at least 5 inches.

This is the first spile! Right now it's only finger snug, it still needs to be tapped into place. I took pictures once the bucket was hanging, but it was so bright out I couldn't tell the picture was blurry on my camera screen. Use your imagination.

Dar doesn't use lids on her buckets and I decided not to either. Lids help to keep debris and rain water out of the sap. Rainwater just dilutes the sap which means you need to cook it down further, and bugs and bark are easy to strain out with coffee filters before you start to boil the sap.
It takes a little extra effort, but apparently is not as cumbersome as trying to work around a lid. I'll go with the voice of experience on this one.

In the first picture you can see the three buckets on the front side of the tree, and there is a fourth around the back side. Having the spiles all in one tree will make it easier for me as a beginner, because the sap should all be of a similar consistency on any given day. Different trees have different sap characteristics, and then I'd have to decide whether to separate them and make two separate batches or blend them all together.
On a warmer day the sap would start pouring down the spile almost immediately, but today it was too cold, so you'll have to wait for shots of sap in the pail.
Eagerly waiting for the mercury to climb.

And Washing, and Washing...

One half of the fleece is still soaking in a tub in my room. The other half I decided to try the washing machine method with. I have to say it's cleaner than the fleece in the bucket, but it really ought to be given that it's had 8, yes count them 8 washes. It's still kinda poopy, but I've resigned myself to just picking around it, and combing it out once dried. When I soak the finished yarn to set the twist I'll add soap and give it one more wash to get the residues off, but any solid matter is just gonna have to be manually removed at this point.

I think the fleece in the tub is just going to get a couple rinse cycles in the washing machine, spun out well, and then it's on to drying and carding the whole lot.

While I think it's the number of washings and not the method that got the machine fleece cleaner, I must admit that it's far easier on the back to let the machine fill and drain the tub. Spinning the fleece also removes most of the water, far better than I possibly could have by hand.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Washing Wool

Well, dear readers, I have learned some important things when it comes to washing wool. I'm no expert at this, I'm certainly learning as I go. First off, wait until you have the time to thoroughly inspect your fleece and pick out the worst bits. Yep sheep poop dissolves in water, but only up to a certain point. Full bowel movements would take a heck of a lot of washings to get out.

Also, give your fleece some room. I found that with just half a fleece I had to separate it into two buckets so that the water can get all in and around and between the fibers.

I was told that the poop is the easy part, getting the grease out is harder. Horsefeathers. My fleece is turning snow white, except for where there's big clods of poo still. And I wouldn't mind terribly if a bit of the grease did stick around, it feels lovely when working with the wool.

After a Few Baths

Recall that this is how the wool started out looking before it's baths yesterday. Trust me when I say this was one of the cleaner locks

This is how it's looking after draining the first two hot soapy baths. The top fibers were looking downright beautiful, but I flipped the fleece over and the bottom was still really dirty, so it's going to get more hot baths than it bargained for. It probably would have been better if I'd washed less fleece in more tubs. I might get a second tub down today and split the fleece.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Today was my first transaction out of the back of a truck. It's a style of transaction I can see becoming more common in the future. After calling Bert and finding out that yes, he did indeed have some raw wool from his flock kicking around, we agreed to meet at the McDonalds parking lot. He had the foresight to ask what type of vehicle I'd be driving. I should have asked the same of him, but didn't. I sat in the parking lot for an anxious 12 minutes scanning each vehicle in case it might be his, and worried that I'd missed him. Turns out his last customer had been more chatty than usual. His gold toned suv pulled up beside my car, and Bert hopped out with a little smile on his face. I was grinning ear to ear, like a kid in the candy store. He handed me a big clear garbage bag full of fleece.
The fleece ranged from buttery yellow to almost orange. This means that the lamb produced a lot of lanolin, the natural grease produced in the skin that helps move dirt and debris along the hair and away from the skin. Theoretically, the lanolin should have picked up most of the dirt, and once that dissolves in a bath, the fleece should be pretty clean. Of course, there will still be bits of hay and chaff stuck in the fluff, but that apparently comes out when carded.
Bert told me that this wool is from an ewe lamb, and therefore softer and slightly finer than an adult sheep's wool. The lamb who gave me it's coat is a breed called Dorset. They are a pretty common meat breed of sheep, which makes sense because they make most of their income off lamb meat.
I paid the man 25 bones, and drove away, grinning like the cheshire cat with a stinky, greasy bag of fluff in the back seat of my brand new car.
I came home and inspected my fleece a little closer. I was afraid to try to lay it all out flat for fear of spreading bits of fuzz all over my bathroom and making a big mess shortly before having to leave for work. I did however pluck a "lobe" of wool out of the bunch to inspect.
This tells me that the staple length of the wool is about 3.5-4 inches, and the wool has a pretty light, even crimp all the way to the tip. The whitish part closest to my wrist was closest to the lamb's body, and the darker, dirty stuff towards my fingers was the outer ends of the coat. It should end up all being pretty much white.
Next I filled a rubbermaid tub full of hot water with a generous squeeze or three of dawn dish soap. You know, the kind they use on animals in oil spills? It'll help remove the greasy lanolin from the wool, without opening the scales of the wool which would encourage the locks to felt together. At this point, any agitation is a bad idea. Even without opening the scales, it doesn't make much to felt virgin wool.
Notice that I've put the tub on a towel before filling. If the place where you fill it up is not the same place it will sit to soak, a towel helps it slide along the floor. It's very heavy.

At this point, I should mention that you should ask for a general consensus of the people you live with before undertaking this project. Dirty wool is stinky. My tub of wool is NOT allowed to stay in the family bathroom, and I must admit my room smells like a barn. I must also admit that I kinda love that.

Already the wool is taking on more of a "buttered popcorn" colour, and I haven't even dumped out the first batch of water. Fortunately sheep excrement is largely water-soluble, and the poop liquifies and gets poured out with the bath water. A series of 5 baths will literally shine the shit right out of it.

Found: 1 dorset ewe lamb fleece

Picked up a garbage bag full of fleece today from a man named Bert who sells lamb meat at the local farmer's market here in town. I called him this morning, and told him what I was looking for. He told me he had just the thing, it's not quite a full fleece, but there's about 6 lbs of wool, and it's got an average staple length of about 3-4 inches, which I'm told is just about perfect for a new spinner.
I've started washing it, but I'll have to share pictures and instructions later, I'm off to work for the afternoon.

What a Sorry Sap.

I'm talking of course about the maple sap we're likely to get this year. I was talking with my friend and mentor in syrup making yesterday, and she says we'll be tapping the trees this weekend. She's not anticipating a great season though. The weather has been too funny, and already there are buds on the trees. Now, the sap is fine until those buds open, but once they do, the sap starts to take on a bitterness, and the syrup isn't very pleasant. The ideal condition for syrup is weather where the roots are covered with snow, the days get above zero, and the nights dip below it, and before the buds break open. We'll have a narrow window this year folks.
I think for the sake of learning the process, even if the sap goes "buddy" and gross tasting, I'll take it through the steps to turn it into syrup. Even if it's not fit for pancake consumption, at least I'll know how to do so in the future.
I've started saving used up bottles from syrup around here, and I can buy more of those types from the tractor supply company (TSC) for .99 cents. They only hold about 250 mL of syrup, or about one cup, but they'll make the liter or so that I make seem to go further.

Hand Spinning

Lately I've become interested in learning to hand spin. I've been reading like a fiend on the subject, and I think I've got the general principles down, from washing, to carding and finally spinning. Andrew is putting together a homemade drop spindle for me this week, and next week I'll hopefully be posting a how to article. I've been busy contacting local lamb producers all morning trying to get my hands on some raw wool. I know it's the wrong time of year, but I have to give it a try anyhow! In the mean time I've been playing about with the undercoat that I brush out of my poodle-cross, Taffy. She's rather indignant about the whole process though, I suppose she already looks like a sheep and it's only further embarrassment to use her like one. The puppy-ish little wolfling inside of her cries at being likened to prey. I need some real sheep wool.

Update: Andrew has finished my spindle! Here it is:
Now all I need is a sheep that don't mind giving up a handful or two of fleece in February...

New Layout

I've decided the old colour scheme just didn't quite look right, so I've switched it up. I'm still not sure I'm quite happy with it, so bear with me the next week or two :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Taffy's made herself at home

What can I say? A car is not my car until the obligatory dog is installed. Her favourite perch of course is in the back window. I didn't stop to consider how much paw prints show up on black leather though!!


My wonderful sweetheart made me this plaque for Valentine's Day. It's got a bear's paw (his favourite animal) and a wolf paw (which is mine). The lettering is a style of script he found in a celtic book printed in the 1700's, and the gaelic words "Gaol gu brath" which roughly translate to eternal love. What a sweetheart huh? I couldn't think of a better Valentine's gift.
He's gone and started himself a blog he calls Bear Anvil Forge, so if you'd like to know a little bit more about the making of this gift you could click here.
I gave him a card, it wasn't much but he really seemed to appreciate it. And then I made the poor fella come down to Mississauga with me to drive my new car home. That's right, the financing went through on my baby! She's parked in the driveway as I type. I now own a car. It's a big deal here!
A great day overall!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Well, new to me anyhow! This is my new 2006 Nissan Altima. My first car, and I must say, what a sweet car she is! The financing has been approved, and if all goes well with the insurance people (I'm eagerly awaiting a phone call), she'll be coming home with me tonight. She's got pretty high mileage, but she's in impeccable condition, and is fully loaded with all the bells and whistles... sun roof, heated leather seats... she's beautiful!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

V-Day Ideas

I'd like to spoil my honey bear for V day, but walking up and down the aisles of box stores... everything looks so impersonal. And also like it's made for either elementary school children, or for men to give to women. Any crafty ideas for me to make/do/buy for my fiance?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Settling in

I find I'm settling in quite nicely at work. I had Andrew come in one day and hang a couple things for me, so the space already is starting to feel like mine. Business is slowly building, I've gone from sitting around the office all day hoping someone would call, to knowing that I've got about 2 clients on any given day. It's a start. Yesterday I had 4 clients booked but one had to cancel, her child was ill. It happens.
I've gotten to treat all kinds of fun conditions, all the wonderful things that our teachers said "I'm gonna show you this, but it's so rare... you might never do this kind of work in your practice." Yeah, I've pretty much seen/done them all. MVA's, TMJ's, Pregnancy massages, minors... Lions and tigers and bears- oh my!
I'm having a lot of fun. I like the people I work with, I like the area, I love my commute, I love the diversity of clients I'm seeing...

I once told Andrew I was lucky, because massage is so prevalent everywhere, and there are so few areas in Ontario that are truly over saturated with therapists, that even if he got hired on an ambulance service up in Moose-Nuts, Nowhere, I'd be able to pick up and find work up there. That is still of course the case, but I'm getting spoiled where I am now, I don't want to ever have to leave!

Thursday, February 9, 2012


So, lately I've been spending FAR too much time on the computer. FAR too much time. Looking at lolcats and other funnies and online comics. Why? There are so many better things I could be doing with my time! Found this picture today:

And was kinda sad for the dog in the picture. And then I looked down at the foot of my bed where my pup was sitting with a squeaky toy and hopeful eyes. And now that I feel about like a sack of mud, I'm gonna go play with my dog. And maybe shower and become a productive human being again.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sap Buckets

The Sobeys here in town has their muffin mixes delivered in these 5 gallon buckets with lids. Perfect for sap buckets if you ask me! I called them the other day, and the nice lady in the bakery department told me I could come by and pick up the goopy, muffin batter covered buckets for free. Awesome. I'm glad I brought along a garbage bag to protect the car!! They were slimy and disgusting, but with a good scrub down they're just perfect!

Of course, now the weather has finally decided to behave like an early February should and the temperature is too cold for the sap to be running. Oh well, I'm prepared for when it does.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Playing House

Andrew and I are playing house this weekend, or at least it feels that way. My folks are gone to Niagara Falls for the weekend for their anniversary, and asked Andrew and I to hang out at the house and keep an eye on the brothers. Yeah, I know, they're 18 and almost 17 yrs old, but the folks didn't want their baby boys home alone. It's hard on the liquor cabinet that.
So, we've moved into the master suite for the weekend (bigger, comfier bed), I went to work yesterday, he went to 1812 drill today, we've done laundry, kept the house clean, taken out the garbage, walked the dog, fed the fussy kids and acted as mediators. In other words, run the household. Good practice I figure, for the day when we run our own. Though I'll be happy to work my way up to parenting teenagers over the next 15 yrs or so, rather than take them on over night!
I like the way we work together. It's been a good weekend.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I'd Tap That

A friend of mine has been tapping her own trees and making her own syrup for as long as I've known her, and I've always been slightly envious of her abilities to make homegrown sweetners. So this year I fired off an email to her: If she hadn't started tapping her trees yet, could I come and watch and learn and take pictures for you dear readers. She of course said sure, and that she could do me one better. If I could bring her plastic buckets with tight fitting lids I can take home some of the sap myself. I'll stand at her elbow while she boils down one batch, and get a feel for the whole process, and then take my buckets home and make my very own sap from trees that she grew, and we tapped. HOW COOL IS THAT!! My goal is to bring home about 10 gallons of sap which should make me a 1 quart mason jar full of the sweet sticky stuff. Dar Kingstone has 9 spiles, 5 mature maple trees, and usually only uses 6 spiles. This year she plans to use less because she still has syrup in the freezer from last year. If I'm really getting the hang of it and enjoying the process then I could make much more than just 1 qt. Weather permitting of course.
The ideal weather for syrup is days that come up into the positive numbers, and nights that are below zero. The change in pressure within the tree as the wood expands and shrinks acts as a "pump" to draw the sap up the tree in the day time, and shunt it back down to the roots when it chills at night. With the freaky weather we've been having, the sap has probably been flowing most of the week, and will next week too, but Dar's not ready to tap the trees yet, so I'll patiently wait for her go ahead.
In the mean time I'll be contacting local restaurants to see if I can get food grade pails for free. Failing that I can buy some at Home Depot or TSC.