Friday, September 25, 2009

Tie Dying with the Fiber Guild

I did it. I joined the local fiber guild. Meetings conflict with my regularly scheduled Auburn Knitting Group, but it's just one Tuesday a month, so I guess I'll branch out.

The first meeting of the year was a Tie Dye event. Now, I've never been a particular fan of tie dye, generally finding it too busy, so I was a bit trepidatious about the whole event, but found a middle ground by dyeing t-shirts for DH.

I had no plan about colors, but once I saw what some other people where doing, I decided I needed to do some color mixing experiments, rather than just using straight colors. For the first shirt I decided on a blue, teal, green and lime scheme. Mix a little blue and green to get teal, add more yellow to get lime... Ok, not bad. The results are mild, not having any really bold, contrasting colors.

Well, I'd spent so much time on the folding and dyeing of the first shirt, that I was suddenly rushed to do the second shirt. So I quickly tied it up and started applying every color I had left in front of me, while everyone else was cleaning up the room around me. A splash of red here, ooh, maybe bleed the blue across the red to get some purple, lime green over here, regular green there, add some green into the red to get some rust bleeds... This shirt was freaking me out, and it turned out great!!!

So am I a converted fan of tie dye? No, not particularly, but the idea of playing with color is something I've been wanting to explore, and this was a good introduction prior to the all day dye event on Sunday. I've been scouring the web for color combination ideas, wanting to make sure that I can really benefit from the experience of the great ladies who are putting on the event.

I plan to dye some wool roving and a bit of handspun I did in my class, which is either wool or alpaca, I can't remember. I'm also thinking about bringing some small fabric samples to practice playing with the dyes, but that may be going overboard.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Goats are like water

What is a stanchion? It's a stand for securing a goat (or sheep or cow). I use a stanchion for hoof trimming and milking. I'd been using a friend's stanchion. It worked well enough. It got the animal up to a height easier to milk, and had cleats for tying the back feet to prevent kicking. However, the neck guide was great in theory and didn't work so well for my mini goats.

So before building my new stanchion I took a look at design variations at the library and online. I particularly liked this one from Fias Co Farm, with a keyhole neck gate design. Best of all, the plans were in an easy-to-print pdf and included shopping details. It took one afternoon to build, with DH doing the keyhole neck cuts with the jigsaw.

I have two changes to the original design. The first is the addition of cleats for tying hind feet. (It really isn't any fun when your goat sticks her hind foot in the milking pail, although the chickens enjoy the treat of resulting contaminated milk.) The other is height. 14" legs might work for a full size goat, but this is just to low for easy milking on my minis.

You can see that Maharani approves of the mini-feeder attached to the front.

So does this Western fence lizard. I'm not sure how he got in there, but he was really happy to be let loose back on the ground.

A discussion with a local forester with UN experience in Africa had this story to share. After spending LOTS of money to revegetate a particular area, my friend approached the village chief to discuss the goats which were rapidly eating all of the new plantings. "If we don't contain the goats, all of this work will amount to nothing." "Ah," said the chief, "you have to understand. Goats are like water and are not easily contained."

What does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Well, goat fencing occupies a lot of my husband's time, as goats are particularly adept at exploiting any weakness in a fence. So this story has become our new mantra. Goats are like water...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A busy summer...

A friend remarked today that her autumn sense is tingling. Yep, the lessening daylight and lowering incline of the sun in the sky, the desire for handknit socks in the morning and an extra blanket on the bed at night. Next we'll be chopping wood... Fall is just around the corner, which leads me ponder, where has summer gone?

The garden has been prolific, probably something to do with all of the chicken and goat poop and bedding that I mulch the beds with. The winter squash, which turned out to be a kabucha and not an acorn, has taken over one side of the garden. Several kinds of tomatoes are slowly ripening, and the eggplants are in super production mode. In particular, the fairy tale eggplant is doing magnificently.

At my last posting, we had a baby boy goat. Well, he's not so little anymore. He easily weighs 45 lbs and is nearly as tall as the smallest of the minis. If he were going to remain a boy it would be time to separate him from the girls. Instead, Finn is undergoing a procedure that makes my husband cringe to talk about, but the rough part is already over and Finn is handling it like a trooper. We plan to look for a home for Finn, not really needing another browsing animal, but he is pretty adorable, with the same sweet temperament of his momma, and so we find ourselves tempted to keep him anyway.

What else? Well, at the beginning of summer, a friend and I took an intensive spinning class, and I'm now the proud owner of a Ladybug by Schacht. It's small enough to fit under my craft table and take to knit night or spinning events. I used it to spin this green sock yarn which won first place in the novice spinning category at the fair. Woo hoo!

The fair. That took a week of my life, and it was immediately followed by the land trust's annual benefit concert, which took another week of life. Then there was the week of recovery... And that was about it for August.

I've been knitting all summer, some baby items for new arrivals and a tank top that I hope to finish this week. With the whisperings of cooler air, my fingers are itching to do more knitting and spinning, and get warmer projects finished up.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Upcoming Class

Math of Socks
Thursday, August 13
2 hours, $25

There's nothing more disappointing than knitting a pair of socks in beautiful hand-painted yarn to have them not fit. If this has happend to you then you need this class. If you can balance your check book (and even if you can’t), you’ll be a master of numbers and your knitting at the finale of this class.

While this 2-hour class is geared to fitting socks, the underlying concepts apply to all knitted garments. Bring a tape measure, a calculator, pencil, and a 2”x2” swatch of sock yarn knitted in the round.

RSVP to The Tin Thimble, 916-663-2134.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Study finds native bees thriving

This blip comes to you courtesy of California Agriculture, a University of California's peer-reviewed journal of research in agricultural, human and natural resources. For a free subscription or to read the entire article, go to:

Evidence is mounting that pollinators of crop and wildland plants are declining worldwide. Our research group at UC Berkeley and UC Davis conducted a 3-year survey of bee pollinators in seven cities from Northern California to Southern California. Results indicate that many types of urban residential gardens provide floral and nesting resources for the reproduction and survival of bees, especially a diversity of native bees. Habitat gardening for bees, using targeted ornamental plants, can predictably increase bee diversity and abundance, and provide clear pollination benefits.

Frankie G, Thorp R, Hernandez J, Rizzardi M, Ertter B, Pawelek J, Witt S, Schindler M, Coville R, Wojcik V. 2009. Native bees are a rich natural resource in urban California gardens. Cal Ag 63(3):113-120. DOI: 10.3733/ca.v063n03p113

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Birth of Goat - Part 2

So much for twins! Just one good size, sturdy boy.

It was a bit of a rough birth. There's was lots of goo (sorry Sharon) and then a foot, more goo, then a second foot. Troy was at her head, comforting and encouraging from that end. I tugged out one foot, then another, and then we got stuck for a bit. Finally a tongue, nose, big push and pull, and we had the head out. The rest of the body slides right out after that.

Sorry no pictures during this phase; we were kinda preoccupied! We hung the baby upside down to encourage draining of the amniotic fluid from it's mouth and nose, then onto the pad in front of mom. We helped mom clean up the baby, so that she spent less time cleaning and more time bonding. Also, if it were a cold day (and not over 100°F), this would minimize chilling time while wet.

The little guy was quick. Not even ten minutes and he was nuzzling for a teat. It took a bit of trying on his part - fingers, my pant cuffs, everything seemed like a good place to nuzzle, including my own dairy case. Sorry guy, no milk there. Up and standing and nursing within twenty minutes is excellent.

It's been an hour. The afterbirth is delivered, baby is dry, mom's had a treat, baby and has nursed and mom and baby are having some quiet time now. They are quietly talking to each other. It's really cute. The baby has the same white spot and lip markings as mamma.

The Birth of a Goat - Part 1

We're on baby goat watch today. Dharma has been showing all the early signs of labor today. Typically goat births are uncomplicated, but it's always best to be on hand. Even if everything goes smoothly, you can assist by helping to clean off the baby, ensuring less clean up time and more bonding time for mom and kid(s). Also, making sure the kid(s) successfully nurse within the first hour is very important. All that aside, it also means that humans are part of the kid(s)' very first experience in this world.

Don't know much about goats? Well, the doe (female goat) has a five month gestation, with typically a five day variance from the day of conception for when she'll typically birth. Unfotunately, Dharma had been living with a buck several months prior to her coming to live with us, so we didn't know her exact date of conception, and have had to rely on her general condition (and girth) to indicate when she was due. All the signs pointed to the end of June, and we've been preparing since the middle of the month.

As each doe and birth is different, she could show all, some or none of the signs. Thank goodness for us we are getting some warning. This morning we had several indicators that suggest that she'll give birth today. Her tail ligaments are softening, resulting in a limp tail, though that has since disappeared since this morning. Her udder, which has been developing for the last several weeks, now has colostrum which I was able to squeeze out this morning, a very strong signal that birth is imminent. She also had some amber colored goo oozing from her vulva, which is amniotic fluid. They can leak a whitish fluid for several weeks prior to birth, but amber is another imminent signal.

Knowing the wait could be many hours, we set up a comfortable station where we can sit adjacent to the pen, and turned the other goats into the nearby pasture. She mews if either of us leaves the area. I'm sitting here with laptop, camera and knitting, being a constant presence. We go in the pen periodically to take a closer look or just provide comfort during this strange time.

We had one contraction at 2:00pm, and some more goo (sorry Sharon), but we're still waiting. Did I mention Dharma's a first timer? We could be here a while. At least it's a condusive situation for knitting.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

World Wide Knit in Public Day

Saturday is World Wide Knit in Public Day!
In Grass Valley there is an opportunity to knit at the Growers Market at the Fair Grounds from 8-noon.
Does anyone want to go to this knit in, or try to stage our own at the Auburn Saturday morning market?
Check out this link for more info and to find a WWKiP event near you. I know there are two in Sacramento!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

GardenRant: The Truth About Jeff Gillman

Jeff Gillman is a professor of horticulture at University of Minnesota where he conducts research about "organic gardening" and has written numerous articles and a few books. You can read my book review about his latest book, The Truth About Organic Gardening, in Briar Patch's newest newsletter, due out this week.

By the way, he later claims he was a little harsh on the Garlic and Peppermint Spray. " I do think it might work for insects, but for plant diseases?"

Courtesy of Amy Stewart over at GardenRant.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Trimming Goat Hooves

I've been to five local hay and feed stores looking for a hoof trimmer suitable for small goat hooves - most locations were out or were for horses. I finally picked up a pair of trimmers today and we trimmed the goats hooves.

Troy and I worked in tandem on this project, one person trimming, the other holding the goat steady and provide reassuring petting and butt scratching. As you can imagine, and see in the video, the animal does not like having it's foot picked up anyway.

The overgrown material is similar in composition to our fingernails, and it doesn't hurt the goat to have the excess material removed. In fact, if not removed periodically, it can lead to foot and leg problems as well as increasing the chance for diseased feet. Sheep are more prone to hoof rot, especially during the rainy part of the year, but this could be an issue in goats too, if left untended.

Each goat was praised and fed special treats for enduring the much needed pedicures. This will be the last hoof trim for Dharma until she delivers in the next 2-4 weeks. This guy has great videos about birth and possible complications too!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Little Crop of Horrors

Did you know that Michelle Obama's elitist organic garden could simultaneously cause starvation, obesity and cancer? Watch the Daily Show's tongue-in-cheek response to elitist concerns about organic gardening.

By the way, this isn't all laughs. Pro-pesticide group MACA (Mid America Croplife Association) wrote to Michelle Obama, defending the use of "crop protection products." One official with the pro-pesticide group said, “While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made [us] shudder.” MACA represents agribusinesses like Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and DuPont.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Little Crop of Horrors
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

Vinegar - Not just for your salad

Not having medical insurance means I'll use traditional and alternative remedies for anything not requiring emergency care, ie spurting wounds or broken bones. I could mention that as a biologist, I've had the standard pre-med training, as a certified massage therapist, I know how humans are put together, have completed two herbal apprenticeships and I am certified in First Aid and CPR. I could probably safely handle the first stage of many medical emergencies should it come to that. I can take vitals and administer shots (to livestock at least). I should also point out that I'm not a doctor, so kids, don't try this at home without first consulting a physician. (Nods to legal department.)

Last year I got poison oak for the first time, and the itching was unbearable. There wasn't enough Tecnu and hydrocortizone cream to assuage the itching. My first outbreak this year persisted over two weeks, driving me over the edge, until I tried manzanita/vinegar compresses. Applied topically it takes the itching and redness right out, and halves the healing time of the skin.

My second outbreak this year was a systemic reaction, the kind that would have most people rushing to get cortizone shots. Face puffy, eyes swelled half closed. I was miserable. I immediately boiled up some manzanita, took lots of antihistamines, and went on with life. Five days later my face was not puffy and another two days saw my skin clear up. Seven days instead of 2-3 weeks of itchiness and peeling skin.

The Recipe.
Boil up a handful of manzanita leaves in 1-2 cups of water and let it simmer for 30-40 minutes. Strain out the leaves and mix 1:1 with vinegar. I've been using white vinegar, but apple cider would work just as well. Try it and let me know!

Then I noticed a great side effect - it also took out the swelling and itching of mosquito bites. Maharani and I were being eaten my hordes of mosquitoes while milking. The idea of using DEET or that new chemical (that doesn't work) while milking left lots of concerns. What if I contaminated the milk and inadvertently poisoned someone?

Now, I should mention that I have tested most of the herbal repellents on the market. To say I found them unsatisfactory is an vast understatement. The ingredient they lack is vinegar. So I'm testing a series of essential oils mixed with vinegar and water, which are then sprayed on myself and Maharani. The rose geranium mixture has worked better than those herbal repellents. I'm also going to try lavender and citronella.

What else is vinegar good for? Removing hard water deposits, as a household cleanser, removing all kinds of stains, deorderizing, disinfecting... The list is long. Best of all, your typical household vinegar is non-toxic.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Milk drinking fools

No, I'm not referring to my husband. I'm talking about my chickens.

For weeks they have watched the evening milking. Black hen in particular would stand around, intently observing for upwards of ten minutes. This is a very long time in chicken time. I wasn't sure what the fascination was. Had she watched milking before? Could she smell the calcium in the milk?

I'd heard about feeding chickens old milk and yogurt, or failed cheese. So when Maharani put her foot in the milking jar, rendering the milk unclean for human consumption, I decided to put some out for the chickens. I was in no way prepared for the chickens' enthusiasm for this treat.

They now expect some everyday. They wait at the stanchion, eyeballing the goat, and get excited when I walk by with a mason jar. Nevermind that it may only be my water jar, I'm followed right inside my studio for anticipated treats.

Sorry there's no sound on the video, but enjoy the antics of my milk drinking chickens!

Monday, May 11, 2009


Maybe you've heard of phrenology, the study of bumps and ridges on a person's head. But have you heard of phenology? I'd heard of it, but didn't know the term for it. According to the National Phenology Network, phenology is the study of recurring plant and animal life cycle events, or phenophases, such as leafing and flowering of plants, maturation of agricultural crops, emergence of insects, and migration of birds. Many of these events are sensitive to climatic variation and change, and are simple to observe and record.

Still not sure what that means? Well, I've been told by locales that you should plant your warm weather vegetables (tomatoes, peppers) when nearby blackberry brambles are flowering. I've also been told that Central Valley indigenous people would use the signal of elderberries flowering to migrate to the coast to collect seaweeds.

The National Phenology Network is calling for citizen scientists to record their observations in their database. Much like the annual bird counts organized by Audubon, scientists need citizens around the country to contribute their local data. I could submit information like when the oaks leaf out on my property, when the lilacs bloom (I've seen a seven week variation in the five years I've lived here), or when the tent caterpillars come spinning out of the trees.

Maybe you have a personal stake in your observations. For example, I'm quite aware when the oaks and pines are producing massive amounts of allergy inducing pollen. I dread that time each year. Perhaps it's the appearance of a native wildflower, like Ithuriel Spears or Blue Dicks.

With my previous employer, I often spoke to people on the east coast who insisted that their spring was coming 7-10 days earlier that in previous decades. Due to their anecdotal quality, many of these stories have been dismissed. But what if you keep a garden journal with notes and dates? This information could be uploaded to be analyzed!

I'm very excited. I love data. I love collaboration. I love citizines contributing to science. What not to love?

Chickies Go Outside

The new Silver Laced Wyandotte chicks have been eating, growing, pooping and therefore progressing nicely in their transition to the great outdoors. Saturday was their first day outside. So exciting!

You may recognize the chicken tractor being used once again as a chickie transition pen. It allows the gradual, but protected, introduction of new chickens to the flock. In another couple of days we'll prop up one corner, allowing the small ones the opportunity to safely explore the bigger world, but still a place to get away from the bigger chickens, especially the rooster. Unfortunately, we haven't had another hen attempt to mother our chicks. We miss our granny hen!

Of course, all of the adults had a good look at the new arrivals. Nobody seemed too upset, just curious. From left to right we have Squish Face (Ameraucana), Prius (Ameraucana), Kazoo (Gold Laced Wyandotte rooster) and Black Hen (Black Australorp).

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mum's Day

I'm not a mom by the standard definition, in that I've never given birth. And yet, I've done the mom thing, as much as anyone can who hasn't gone the pregnancy/birth route. Being significantly older than my full-blooded sibs, I've had my share of diaper changes, 2am teething screaming, being thrown up on, kissing scraped knees, bedtime stories, helping with homework and school projects, etc. Granted, I wasn't their primary parent, but to say I was only their big sister is a misnomer.

And then there's all of the animal babies I watch over. We raised our cat Jilly from the tender age of two weeks old, when she was found orphaned from a feral litter. Eyes just opened and still baby blue, with one ear still down and the other half up, she weighed just two ounces. Bottle feedings every three hours, baths, taking her with us everywhere, and making sure we had enough formula (wish I had dairy goats then!), clean bottles, baby wipes and the basket warmer.

Since then we've had several rounds of baby chicks. Thank goodness they don't require bottle feedings every three hours! The latest group is now five weeks old and have been moved out of the brooder and into a cage with more head room. They're almost completely feathered now, and have just begun spending days outside.

And in June, one of my goats, Dharma, is due to have her first set of kids. We're unsure on her due date, but we think it will be at the end of the month. Will that make me a grandma? I don't think so, but it doesn't stop me from sending animal pictures to my mom for her wallet. And she never fails to ask about the status of all the animals. I've even heard that she brags about them to her friends!

Here's some much requested pics of the goats. Pi is the smaller black one in the foreground. She's a year old, and will be bred for the first time this fall. Maharani (left) is my current milking doe and the alpha of the herd.

Dharma is my new girl, from the same breeder as Maharani, and though you can't quite tell in the bottom picture, is starting to protrude from the sides. After her kids are two months old, they will begin to be weaned and then Dharma will also be milked every day. Of the three, Dharma is the most attached to humans. She'll follow you around like a very needy dog and loves to be petted.

Did I mention she has the sweetest face?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Milking Meditation

I recently attended a meditation group, which I really liked, but found I was having trouble meditating everyday. Sitting and doing nothing is very challenging for me. It's how my parents punished me.

And then I got a dairy goat. I'm confined to a sitting position, and doing a fairly simple, repetitive motion with one hand. I must be calm or the goat is too restless to milk easily. This whole process takes about thirty minutes. Just enough of my brain is required to keep the hand motion consistent and the milk falling into the container, that there isn't a lot left over for other pursuits.

The mind becomes wonderfully quiet. I've read about walking meditation. So, if this is qualifies as a type of meditation, it must be milking meditation. I'm now a steadfast practitioner, thirty minutes twice per day.

Is my rooster Scottish?

Kazoo was recently channeling Willliam Wallace aka Braveheart.

They may take our lives, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM!

And then he remembered that he was stuck in the chicken yard. Oh well for that freedom thing. Maybe some other time.
Time to go boss around those hens!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Chicks galore

Hens are most productive the first year they are laying eggs. After that first year production tapers off. While hens continue to live for several years, the produce fewer eggs per week. Most commercial productions therefore only keep young hens, constantly rotating new stock through their facility. (By the way, I'm not sure what happens to these hens. At that age they are too tough to become roasting birds, and most layers aren't considered suitable meat birds anyway.)

We currently have two older hens, a black Australorp and an Ameraucana. The Australorp has black feathers that have a beautiful green sheen in the sun, while the Ameraucana fits right in with our mature Ameraucana chicks. We know that we average an egg each every 2-3 days, as long as there is enough daylight, while our newly matured hens are laying an egg a day. To keep production high, I intend to add another five or six chicks each year.

This year I'm adding silver-laced Wyandottes to our flock. These are the same breed as my rooster, except that he's a gold-laced variant. These will be medium-weight birds, meaning they have a medium-sized frame, and will lay brown eggs.

I was lucky enough to get an unused brooder from a friend, so this year's chicks are living it up in style. The brooder has a wire mesh floor, which allows droppings to fall into the shaving material in the tray below. It's also equipped with a heat lamp and thermostat, so the chicks are kept at a toasty 90°F. They can self regulate by their position in relation to the heat lamp and have free access to water and chick feed.

Each week the temperature will be reduced by five degrees, until around four weeks when they have grown feathers over their baby fluff. At that point they have enough body weight, mass and feathers to withstand drafts. Normally a mother hen would be the primary heat source, hovering over the chicks and keeping them warm with her fluffy underside.

With the Ameraucana chicks, our old red hen, who passed away several weeks ago, took on the role of mothering the chicks. Granny guided them around the yard, protected them from the other chickens, and taught them where to eat and drink. For several weeks the chicks still came in at night, and she would wait for them to be brought out each morning. I don't know if any of our current hens will show mothering tendencies now that Granny is gone, but I hope so.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

In Search of a Centrifuge

Many people think you can't make butter from goat milk, because you don't get much cream rising to the surface. In fact, both goat and cow milk have a fat content of 3.8-3.9%. It's just that the fat globules are smaller in size and lack an enzyme found in cow milk that allows the quick separation of cream from the milk. The smaller globules in goat milk make a smaller curd which is easily digestible.

So I turned to my dairy goat books for suggestions on how to separate the cream. One of the best reference books I own was originally published in 1947, and has this completely sexist statement that had be howling with laughter the first time I read it:

"Installing a separator, however, is no easy job for a woman unless she has a flair for the mechanical. It has many tricky little pieces - set screws, discs, etc, and must be set in place with the guidance of a spirit level, but the instructions for putting it together are simple in man's language, and almost any man can cope with them successfully."

Egads!! I love it. It's so terribly wrong. And written by a women to boot. What happened to all the Riveting Rosies of the war effort just five years earlier?

Anyway, you can buy table top models that provide a separate spigot for the cream and skim milk to run out for a measly $350-500!! The current models are easy to install; they're like many other kitchen appliances that just require removal from the box and plug into the wall. With that kind of price tag they'd better be that easy.

So I've searched the internet for plans or designs for providing some kind of easily powered turning mechanism to provide the requisite centrifugal power needed to make separation happen, which is only about 60rpm. I was thinking of hand cranking a lazy susan, modifying a yarn winder, maybe a modified stationary bike set up, when I came across this gem. Engineering efforts are underway, but in the meantime, enjoy the video!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Goats Revisited

When we first moved to the foothills, we decided to get some goats to help us with brush control. My husband's family used goats to reduce the fire load on the property when he was growing up, so I thought this would be easy. Maybe it would have been, except that we got two escape artist ninja goats from hell. These kinders (pygmy x nubian) performed feats of escape that I would not have believed if I hadn't been secretly watching to see how they were getting out. And did I mention the screaming? Nubians have a propensity for screaming. Ad nauseum. Needless to say, they didn't last long on our property. After several threats of being whole roasted in the front yard we found them a new home.

Now, better educated about goat breeds and having better fencing, we're trying goats again. Nice goats who respect fencing, eat brush AND produce milk. No, I've never milked before, and bets have been placed for how long it'll take for my husband to have to milk. However, today has been day three of the great milking adventure and we're all improving - technique and speed on my part, and patience and calm on the part of the goat.

We got two goats, Maharani (brown) and Pi (black). You always want more than one goat as they are herd animals and need the companionship. Maharani is a two year old mini mancha doe, purchased from a breeder in Redwood Valley. My friend got Maharani's son, a two-month old buck.
The same friend has loaned me Pi, also a mini mancha, to be friends with Maharani. Pi is a one-year old doeling who will be bred in the fall when she comes into heat. This is perfect, as Maharani will probably be drying up about the time Pi begins to produce milk.

Mini Manchas are a smaller variety of La Manchas, created by breeding Dwarf Nigerians to La Manchas, producing an awesome smaller dairy goat. I'm getting a pint each time I milk Maharani, which is twice each day. The milk is sweet and beautifully white. The next step will be trying to produce yogurt and maybe some soft cheese. Mmm, chevré...

Vegetation Sampling at McKenzie Preserve

I had the opportunity to participate in a vegetation sampling workshop held last week in Prather (outside of Fresno). It was cohosted by California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and Sierra Cascade Land Trust Council (SCLTC), of which Nevada County Land Trust (NCLT) is a member, and was held at a preserve owned by the Sierra Foothill Conservancy (SFC). Whew, that's a lot of acronyms!

The preserve was amazingly beautiful. Here's an excerpt from SFC's website:

The main body of the McKenzie Preserve consists of grassland and oak woodland sloping upward toward the basalt lava table lands which give the preserve its name. The preserve includes a significant portion of one of the flat-topped tables that are visible from the road. In the spring, rain water collects in the table’s low spots, forming vernal pools. Since the basalt is impermeable, these pools hold water for several weeks or months until it eventually evaporates. The pools provide habitat for rare plants and rare crustaceans which “come to life” in the presence of the water. When the pools dry up in late spring, these interesting organisms take on new forms (such as seeds or cysts) in order to survive the rest of the year.

The first day was spent partially in a classroom, learning about Rapid and Relevé assessment methods, and then outside in a field of popcorn flower (Plegiobothrys spp.), practicing the Relevé method. In my years of living around Fresno, I've never seen the popcorn flower so profuse. It looked like snow on the ground, intermixed with the dark gold color of fiddleneck amongst the blue oak savanna.

The second day we hiked to the summit of the table top. This was less than a mile, but it was all uphill (both ways!) with an elevation change of 1100 feet! You can see from the pictures the increase in elevation as we climbed and our eventual destination on the table top.

The table top was a rioting mass of wildflowers in bloom, including lupines (Brewer's and Pixie), California poppies, California goldfields, and gold carpet. We did a relevé on a stand of pixie lupine (Lupinus bicolor). We also did a rapid assessment on the band of meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglassii) surrounding the vernal pool.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

There and back again - a knitters tale

Last weekend was the annual Stitches West convention in Santa Clara. Haven't been to a stitches? Picture thousands of knitters and fiber enthusiasts taking over a large hotel and convention center for 4 days. Just imagine. The hotel was overbooked, knitters were rearranging furniture and the baristing machine was out of milk. Not a one lost their temper. They just pulled out their knitting and in the words of Elizabeth Zimmerman, knit on through any crises.

Yes, four days with my people. We practiced the knitters handshake (petting of sweater, "Oh, did you make that?") without fear of reprisal. We exulted over beautiful, one-of-a-kind hand dyed skeins, and almost lost our dignity when we stuck our hands in the yak/silk roving. So soft! And we shopped.

Most importantly we knit. Everywhere.
We knit at the table waiting for food, in the lounge with an alcoholic beverage, in our rooms. I'm sure some of us knit in the bathroom. I cast on a sock the first day during lunch and finished it at the Small Farm Conference on Monday.

I bargained shopped and hunted high and low for the special splurge yarn, which turned out to be Tactile's merino/silk laceweight in pomegranite. The picture doesn't do this color justice. The score turned out to be a mill end of lightweight Sock That Rock in an unknown colorway. Great bargains were also at Webs, where I scored sweater amounts of yarn to do two sweaters from the new book French Girl Knits.

Webs is also the source of my newest project, the Trumpet Flower Cardigan, which uses yarn I purchased last year. Nice, brainless knitting.

And then I made a tactical error. I went to the spinning guild's drop spindle demo. This would have been a good time for an intervention, because I think it's too late now. For just a $5 donation I acquired a starter drop spindle and some roving. I'm hooked. I've already spun the ounce I started with and had to get more at the Tin Thimble. And a friend is loaning me a better quality drop spindle. I can already see where this is headed...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Keep 'Em In the Dark

I got this from GardenRant over the weekend, and it's so succinctly written I'm just going to share the post in it's entirety.

Once more, the big agricultural supplier Monsanto seems to have
decided that the best way to keep its products selling is to control
the flow of information and terrify potential critics with its legal
muscle. In the past, Monsanto has sued dairies that tried to label
their milk free of the recombinant bovine growth hormone it sold, which
boosts cows' milk production, on the grounds that this "misled"
consumers into thinking something was wrong with rBGH.  When in doubt,
rough up the farmer and keep the consumer in the dark.

Today, the New York Times
reports that a group of agricultural scientists have complained to the
EPA that Monsanto, Syngenta, and Pioneer Hi-Bred choke off research on
their genetically engineered seed.  Scientists cannot study insect
resistance in these plants, for example, without the companies'

As the Times notes, these are scientists
who see value in genetic engineering.  Yet they are still being
bullied.  I don't understand why these big companies cannot buy better
public relations advice.

So, where is the political leadership in
all this?  Everything Monsanto does affects the commons.  We all share
this ecosystem.  We have a right to know.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Knitting Classes - Math of Socks

I've been remiss setting up my knitting class schedule for the next couple of months.

I know I'm teaching Math of Socks (description below) twice in the next month, once at Meadowfarm Yarn Studio on Jan. 30th 11-1 and again at Courthouse Coffee in Auburn, date to be determined, although it will be on a Wednesday or Thursday evening. I still need to coordinate with the owner.

For Meadowfarm reservations call
For inquiries about the Auburn class, email me or post to the comments.

This class is designed for people who have made socks and want to understand how to make them fit and make their own socks patterns based on their measurements and gauge.

Math of Socks - 2 hours, $20
Aha! Don’t let the title scare you. If you can balance your check book (and even if you can’t), you’ll be a master of numbers and your knitting at the finale of this class. We'll discuss where to measure the foot, how to adjust for narrow ankles or wide arches, and how to calculate the number of stitches you'll need to make your sock fit. Bring a tape measure, a basic calculator, pencil, and a 2”x2” swatch of sock yarn (sport or fingering). This class is designed with previous sock knitting experience in mind. This is not a learn to knit socks class.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rural Change for America

So the White House is an exciting place these days. A new president who's agreed to tear out five acres of lawn and put in a farm. If I didn't like him already, this would have won me over.

And have you seen his plan for rural change?
Rural communities face numerous challenges but also economic opportunities unlike anything we have witnessed in modern history. President Obama and Vice President Biden believe that together we can ensure a bright future for rural America. They will help family famers and rural small businesses find profitability in the marketplace and success in the global economy.

Here's the highlights:
°Strong safety net for family farmers
°Prevent anticompetetive behavior against family farms
°Regulate CAFOs (confined animal feed lots) - this is going to stick in the USDA's craw. They've been sooo negligent about enforcing these regulations...
°Establish country of origin labeling
°Encourage organic and local agriculture
°Encourage young people to become farmers
°Partner with landowners to conserve private lands

I really like this one! Connect rural America by modernizing phone lines to provide affordable broadband coverage.

For all the details check out

Saturday, January 17, 2009

It's a boy! Again!

No, it's not twins, and I'm not pregnant. But once again one my young henlings has crowed. Can you pick out which one is not like the others?

Yep, about a week ago I heard an additional crow in the yard, and when I looked closer, I realized one of my "girls" was sporting pretty tail feathers! The latest batch of chicks is now 5 months old and are coming into their sexual maturity, and once again I have one more rooster than I bargained for.

So far Kazoo and the "new" rooster seem to be getting along well, without any fighting in the coop at night. Unfotunately, if it becomes a problem, one of them will have to go into the stew pot, as it's pretty hard to find homes for unwanted roosters. By the way, chicks are sexed at birth, but I've had a one in six rate of boys twice now, which is well below the stated oops rate.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Short row heel - no wraps!

This tidy little video showed up in my inbox this morning, and it looks to be such a great (and simple) technique that I wanted to share with all of my sock knitting friends. I'm going to try this on my current socks in progress, so I'll be able to let you know just how practical it is soon.