Wednesday, August 6, 2014

One of the many blessings that have arisen out of my 6-dozen egg experiment is that I have met a wonderful group of knitters and spinners and I have been learning how to spin.

And I don't mean spinning as in putting-on-gym-clothes-and-pedaling-fast-&-furious-while-remaining-in-one-place, while a too-fit-to-be-human instructor shouts things at you to make you pedal faster.

I mean spinning with wool roving and a wheel while someone nice-and-very-human gives you gentle instructions about how to pedal, or rather treadle, slower.

peddle - or treadle - slowly!
Lesson #1 - treadle slowly!
Without breaking a sweat.

getting the twist right
don't over or under-twist your yarn

give it a whir!
Once you've spun two spindles worth of yarn, you ply them both together - again using the wheel. But don't turn the wheel the same way you spin! If you do, you'll get something resembling poodle hair.

To ply, spin backwards!
to ply, spin backwards! 
Plying two strands together yields a two-ply skein of yarn. To get it into an organized skein, you use this funny little tool called a "knitty knotty."

knitty knotty tool for wrapping your plied yarn into a skein
knitty knotty fun
When you take it off the knitty knotty and twist it, you have a skein.

Hand spun wool skeins

Some folks prefer to knit from a ball of yarn.  You can make a ball by hand, wrapping it over and over on itself, or use this nifty ball winder tool.

ball winder

And some day, if you practice a lot, you could be as good as my teacher Pat, seen here demonstrating spinning at the Colors of Kendall celebration.

Pat Ellsworth demonstrating spinning at the Colors of Kendall

If you've ever been interested in learning how to take wool from a roving to yarn, I highly recommend taking a class or finding someone who spins and giving it a try.

Your first yarns will look ugly - like mine, above - but you will have fun.

Without sweating.

Cheers -

Friday, July 25, 2014

Gardens at Seed Savers, Decorah, Iowa

I have been wanting to return to Seed Savers Exchange since I visited Decorah a couple of years ago. Only this time I was not in search of ancient memories from places on Water Street; rather, I wanted to revisit Seed Savers Exchange, a magical place where saving seeds from heritage plants has been the mission since 1975, making it "the largest non-governmental seedbank of its kind in the United States."

Steel Cow paintings available in the gift shop at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa
Lina, White Park cattle painting by Steel Cow
Not only do they save seeds, they showcase them in their gardens and test trial plots.  It was these gardens and plots I wished to return to see again.  With my camera.

Structural elements at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

So I twisted the arm of my good friend Mary to join me for the day and oh what a day it was.

My beautiful friend Mary amidst the corn and cosmos at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

We both loved all of the raised beds in Diane's Garden, dreaming of ways we might incorporate more of these structures into our own gardens at home.

Raised beds in Diane's Garden, Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, IA

Of particular interest to both Mary and I were the willow structures constructed in a child's garden by Willowglen Nursery, also of Decorah, IA.  Mary had taken one of their willow trellis making classes this summer.

Woven willow structures by Willowglen Nursery, at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

But for me, it was all about the flowers.

Cleome flower at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

I love flowers, and I've missed growing my own since moving to the Little Farm.

Cosmos and cleome in the gardens at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

Ironically, I used to grow hundreds of flowers from seed every year when I lived in places where I had no land to plant in - now I have more land than I know what to do with, and no time to cultivate flower beds!

Hollyhocks at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

A rainbow of colors at the gardens of Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

Old favorites like cosmos, zinnias and hollyhocks grew in abundance alongside veggies and other varieties of plants I didn't always recognize like this beautiful striped maize, an ornamental corn from Japan which yields gorgeous burgundy kernels. Seed Savers has kindly labeled many of their plants so we could learn as we wandered.

Japonica Striped Maize, Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

One of the most famous flowers to come out of Seed Savers is Grandpa Ott's Morning Glory, an easy-to-grow flowering vine with deep purple flowers which I had been purchasing for many years before learning it was one of the first seeds given to Seed Savers when it all began.

Grandpa Ott's Morning Glories - Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

For me, no trip to SSE would be complete without going out to see their herd of Ancient White Park Cattle, a heritage breed from the British Isles dating back to pre-Christian times.  The farm hosts two distinct herds of more than 80 animals and have helped the breed move from "critical" to "threatened" status by the Livestock Conservancy.

Ancient White Park bull watches me closely at Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

We probably could have spent more than the few hours we did, wandering, perusing, and gathering ideas (and seeds!) but eventually we needed food and water and to sit down and rest our backs.  So we drove into Decorah and stumbled upon the Nordic Fest - unintentionally, but a nice bonus to end our day!

I enjoyed several pieces of fresh-from-the-griddle lefse - a taste that can never be replicated by refrigerated, store-bought lefse, and we enjoyed wandering down Water Street, watching people and ducking into gift and art shops.

My only regret is that I don't live even closer, as I would be a much more frequent visitor to this area of Iowa.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl visits Seed Saves Exchange in Decorah, Iowa

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Karma is on the fence about which kitty to stalk

It happens so rarely.

Too rarely.

Sitting still outside after a long, hard day.

Just sitting.

Not doing.

Watching and listening to the evening settle in around the farm.

A thought pops suddenly into my mind - "I should see if the bleeding hearts are still in bloom, and if so, grab my camera."

white and pink bleeding hearts at the Little Farm

I do so love the old-fashioned bleeding heart plant.  I have grown these at every property where I have been allowed to put things into the ground.

white bleeding heart plant

Victorian ladies dancing, that's what these little blooms remind me of. 

pink bleeding hearts at the Little Farm

The kitties come out of the house to join me, one by one.

ten ladies dancing...
Karma checks out my flowers

All except Kali, who is no doubt out having her own adventure stalking rodents in the pastures.

After snapping flower photos, I go back to the front steps and sit again.

The kitties put on a playful act for my entertainment.

Karma and Zoey take turns stalking Mojo.

Karma stalks Mojo

Can we be friends?

Mojo is not enticed to join in on the kitty games

Mojo pretends to ignore them all, confident that he is still the Big Dog of cats in the household.

Mojo is above kitten playfulness

So they commence to stalk each other.

Zoey stalkin

Karma investigates something to pretend she'snot stalking Zoey

Zoey is onto Karma's ploy

"Hmmm... foiled again."

I breathe the clean air and feel the dusk settling.

The kittens romp and play some more.

Zoey enjoys an evening outside

The grass is cool and smells so fresh.  A breeze flutters the leaves of the maple tree.

I am fully present, and content.

The End

Blessings -

Gypsy Farmgirl writes about kitty meditations

Monday, May 5, 2014

'Lil Liza Jane

We have five new farm flock members!  All three of our Icelandic ewes gave birth to twins last week, which caused quite a stir since we weren't planning for any lambs this spring.

{Apparently the "wethered" rams we got last year weren't entirely "wethered."}

All three little ladies delivered unassisted - Berritt's early Monday and Elli's early Wednesday, with Finn holding out on us until late Friday night.

Berrit had two ewe lambs - dubbed Oopsy and Daisy - and Elli had a ram and a ewe lamb.  Unfortunately Elli's ram lamb died before I even found it in the paddock.  Her ewe lamb is thriving however. She has one black eyebrow and after polling my Facebook friends, we're going with "Shiner."

Oopsy, Berrit's ewe lamb

We would have missed Finn's delivery entirely - probably with dire consequences - had I not been in Minneapolis for the day, returning to the farm around 11:00pm.

Earlier that day we had put Berrit and Elli and their babies and Finn, who looked like she should have delivered several days ago, into a very small electric net paddock to start teaching the babies about electric nets.

Everything on our farm moves around the pastures in electric net fences. It is very important that all of the animals learn to stay away from the fences, for their own safety.  Although touching the fence one time will merely give a little jolt, getting tangled in the fence can be lethal.

So with Berrit and Elli's babies a few days old, it was time to start their lesson.  After herding all of the ewes out of the barn and into the tiny paddock, we stood and watched them for a bit.

Sure enough, a small, curious nose soon touched the fence and the lamb quickly jumped back.  First lesson successful.

I've been told by other shepherds its better to teach lambs about fences when they are quite young, a day or two old, before they are completely boisterous and can run full-speed into the netting.

Everyone was doing fine, and I left for Minneapolis leaving Papa Bear in charge of keeping a close eye on Finn for the day.

Later in the afternoon PB texted me a photo of a little tarp shelter he put up for the ewes, since it had been raining on and off throughout the day.

tarp tent for the ewes and lambs

{Awww, ain't he sweet?}

When I got home that night, he asked if I wanted to see the lambs.  I assumed he meant Finn had delivered her babies, but he chuckled and said no, but would I like to see the ewes inside their little tarp tent?

Of course I did.

Finn with her twins - male lamb and 'lil Liza Jane

So we bundled up and went back outside.  As soon as our flashlight shone across the paddock I counted five tiny white lambs where there should have only been three.

Finn had just delivered her twins!

It was apparent that one was very small and weak.  After watching for awhile to see if mama could get it up on its feet but with no success, we decided to take it inside and get it warm.

Zoey, mama and 'lil Liza

So for the second time in a week, I found myself with a cold, wet ewe lamb on my belly.

After warming her up for awhile we brought her back outside and brought both her and Finn into the warm barn. She was still weak and could not yet stand on her own.

We went to bed around 1:00am, trusting the little lamb to fight for her life and the universe to help her make it through the night.

We figured, if she was alive in the morning, we would continue to assist her.  If not, then she was apparently too weak out of the gate.

She lived.  Not only that, but she was up walking around the next morning.

Papa Bear with Finn's male lamb

However, Finn had bonded only with her male lamb and was rejecting her daughter.  And by rejecting I mean head butting her into the walls whenever she tried to nurse.

We painted her with Finn's placenta soaked in water in hopes the scent would help her mama accept her.

We spritzed both lambs with essential oils to confuse mama's scent-based recognition.

Nothing worked.

It was evident we'd need to try to bottle feed her and get her some colostrum ASAP.

A lamb is born without any immune system at all.  The only immunity they get is from their mama via her colostrum.  Without any colostrum, she'd surely fail to thrive and probably be very sickly if she survived at all.

But of course, we didn't have any colostrum, since we hadn't been expecting any lambs this spring.

So Saturday morning was spent zipping around to everyone we knew with sheep getting lambing supplies - raw milk, colostrum, bottle nipples, lamb replacer, even a catheter and syringe in case a tube feeding was necessary.

Jersey cow's colostrum from our friend Daffodil was the best we could find on such short notice, so after warming it up I tried giving it to the little peanut in a re-purposed Diet Coke bottle with a Pritchard lamb nipple.

Papa watches Finn and her lambs in the Cheep (sheep?) Shed

To my complete amazement, after chewing on the nipple for awhile, she started sucking down the colostrum.


We are still hoping mama will accept her, but it's not likely at this point.  However, we have seen her snitching milk several times while her brother is nursing.

She is nothing if not determined.

So we continue to supplement her with raw cow's milk.

I've been taking to calling her "Little Liza," as in Nina Simone's "Little Liza Jane."  She's just a little peanut - only four pounds at birth - smaller than our Siamese kitten.

But she continues to amaze us with her will to survive, and endear us with her sheer determination.

So, 'lil Liza, welcome to the Little Farm.

Boo checks out the newest members of his flock

Oh I've got a friend in Kendall.... Little Liza Jane....
The alpacas are confused by these little white fuzzballs...  Little Liza Jane.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl writes about Little Liza Jane

Karmalatte in her soft collar

It takes a special kind of person to save little animal lives. 

I am incredibly grateful to the talented folks at the University of Wisconsin Madison veterinary hospital for being those kind of people. 

Last Tues. Karma, our newest kitten, was critically injured. You can read that story here.

After rushing her to my local vet, I was referred to the University of Wisconsin - Madison due to the complicated nature of the surgery she required.

poster in the exam room at the U of W, Madison vet hospital

I am not one to rush critters to university hospitals.  I figure if livestock can't be saved on the farm, then it's probably best if they pass along. 

And if a pet is critically injured, well, I just always figured we'd have to put it down.

But Karmalatte - our Siamese kitten - well, it seems we were already too attached to this tiny peanut with the gigantic purr and the fearless heart to let her die without trying to save her.  

Papa Bear and I agreed - if they could help her in Madison, we'd get her there. 

So I went, speeding through the midnight hour, worrying as her breathing became more and more labored as she sat in her kennel beside me.  

I knew I was losing her.  I prayed she would hold on.

The staff that greeted me at U of Madison was amazing.  They met me at the door and rushed Karma to an oxygen chamber to assist her breathing. 

Doctor Paige Mackey, DVM told me her surgery would be in the morning unless her condition declined enough to warrant starting it sooner.  She asked me about CPR options and treated me with the utmost kindness when I burst into tears all over again at the mention of Karma's possible death.  

Since the hospital doesn't generally allow visitors the day of surgery, and since there was nobody at the farm to handle the next morning's chores, I decided to return home. 

It was 7:15pm Tuesday evening when I first grabbed Karma and headed to my local vet's office. It was 4:30am Wednesday when I finally returned home from Madison and crawled into bed. 

There was nothing I could do now but wait and pray.

Shortly after dropping wearily onto my pillows, the phone rang.  It was the university. They were concerned about her declining condition.  They were calling in the surgical team early. 

I fell asleep fitfully, reminding myself that she was now in the capable hands of the surgeons.

Around 7:00 am I got a call that the surgery was over and everything had gone well. They had succeeded in repairing her ruptured diaphragm. Her lower abdomen organs had pushed up through the rupture, causing her problems breathing. 

Without the surgery, she would have died.

I breathed a big sigh of relief.

They said she wasn't out of the woods yet, due to the traumatic nature of her injury she may develop contusions on her lungs (bruises) which could fill with blood and cause inadequate oxygen levels. They were keeping a chest tube in just in case they needed to drain any gasses or fluids. 

They would know more after 24 hours.

Throughout the next two days I received regular updates from Doctor Julie Walker, DVM, DACVECC regarding Karma's status.  All of the updates were positive.  

I breathed another sigh of relief.

Wed. afternoon I heard from small animal surgery vet Kevin Kroner, DVM that they had taken some additional x-rays of her pelvis and found several fractures.  The recommendation was additional surgery, but we had the option to wait and see if she could heal them herself. 

We opted to wait. 

We got the OK to come and get her Friday afternoon. 

When Dr's Walter and Kroner brought her into our room and handed her to me she seemed a much frailer version of the kitten we knew. 

Dr's Walker and Kroner of the U of Madison veterinary care

She sported a blue "soft collar" which would keep her from licking her incision until the staples could be removed. 

Her front legs and entire belly were shaved and stained from the iodine disinfectant. A long incision ran down her abdomen, held together with metal staples.

Karma's staples after having surgery for a ruptured diaphragm

She was on pain medication that made her sleepy. 

Despite all of this, when I gingerly held her to me, she purred loudly and licked my cheek. 

We were going home. 

We may not be able to afford a trip to Europe in the near future, but after watching her sleeping comfortably in her crate in our own living room, I asked Papa Bear, "Was it worth it?"

The unwavering answer came back immediately -


a happy ending for Karmalatte

Cheers - 

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