Tuesday, October 18, 2011


In September, I took almost 3 weeks for a trip to the midWest. Clifford and I shared my pickup truck out and back, and we picked up 2 Shetlands to share the ride home. The major goal of the trip was to attend the 2011 Iron Welsh Challenge in St. Louis. Clifford was entered in three of the events, though not in the Challenge itself, since I was judging the agility portion of the IWC.

Before the IWC started, I gave a tracking seminar in Mountain Home, AR. The enthusiasm of the attendees was infectious, and I hope they continue on! I then spent several days with a friend in the area before driving to Sullivan, MO, for the IWC tracking tests - the first events in the 2011 IWC. We had 2 VST entries, including Clifford, 1 TDX entry, and 1 TD entry. Both the TD and TDX dogs PASSED, but Clifford failed after going well astray on the first leg then coming back to miss the first turn.

The Iron Welsh Champion was also the breed's first CT (earned her VST in May) - Ripley with owner/handler Lisa. Highlights of the weekend included the Welsh Springer winning Best in Show at Sunday's all breed show, Meghen's baby shower, and the "Boys" winning the Rally Team class. Clifford's highlight was the hunt test, held on Monday. He was one of three qualifiers, though the important part to him was BIRDS!

On my way home, Julianne and Tom Budde met me with Lil'Country Nightcap and BabyBee. They got the pickup bed "suite" on the way home. NightCap (below) is a very handsome, moorit, polled Shetland ram with incredibly soft and crimpy fleece. Babybee is a lovely, dainty moorit Shetland ewe who's produced well for Jules and now gets a chance to move the EverRanch flock toward polled rams.
By the time I returned home, a shipment of long awaited Gotland semen from Sweden itself! had arrived in the US. Early in the month, we got 12 ewes ready for AI, 11 of them received semen from 4 of the elite rams represented in the import. Now we wait.

It's a constant struggle to keep sheep numbers down. With so many really nice ewes - and rams, too - it's hard to decide who stays and who goes. This year, Shetlands Mindy (left below) and Astrid (right below) fell below my "keeper" line. Very nice sheep both, they found a home in a flock who has 3 other EverRanch % Gotland sheep. They might even get to participate in Living Nativity at their new home.

While I was gone, the garden reached its peak of the summer. Tomatoes, corn, beans, squash all were at their best while I was gone, but held on long enough for me to enjoy them, too! Actually, there are lots of green beans in the garden, hard to believe it's late October and the beans still look like this:

Tomatoes finally gave up with way too many green ones left on the vines. We grew a number of "Beefstake" type varieties this year, and they don't survive storage well. There are just too many folds and lobes, though the cherry tomatoes didn't survive well either. I harvested quite a few pumpkins and squash - Sweet Meat, Spaghetti, Delicata, Sugar Pie and generic pumpkin. The sheep fight each other for the bean plants, corn stalks and Brussels sprouts leaves. Soon, they'll get to clean up the garden except for the cold hardy plants - parsnip, Brussels sprouts, carrots, beets, chard, leeks. Yes, we'll still be eating from the garden for a while!

- Franna

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Garden at the End of July...

Oops! Looks like I forgot to finish a post. How fun to look back at the mid-summer garden!

... looks a lot like a "normal" June garden. We're eating lettuce, green onions, chard, baby beets, summer squash, and broccoli. There is abundant promise.

...Zuccini and blossoms...

...yellow squash and more blossoms...

...shepherd's potatoes...

...with blossoms. Potato blossoms are very pretty, and are obviously in the nightshade family!

...squash blossoms. Someday I'm going to try fried squash blossoms.

...tomatoes, if not ripening, at least there are now green ones.

Garden view looking SSW. Onions, lettuce, beets, broccoli, leeks, squash, corn, sunflowers.

...corn with tassles!

...more potato blossoms. This time a red potato - Carmine.

...beans to come! The Royal Purple are gorgeous plants. Red stems and the lovely violet-pink blossoms! The little bean is still green - soon to turn dark purple.

This has been a great year for broccoli. Not too hot, not too cold.

Pole beans climbing up the sunflowers.

A closer look at a baby Royal Purple bean.

That was where I stopped, but I figured it is still worth sharing. The garden of 2011 isn't quite done, though long past its peak. It's not too early to look forward to next year's garden!
- Franna

I Finished the Tour de Fleece!

I started Le Tour de Fleece a couple of previous years, but didn't stick with it to the end. THIS YEAR...

...I spun a little or a lot every day the riders rode. And most days, I watched the "other" spinning - bicycles, lots of bicycles. It was an exciting Tour with many sprint finished, lead changes, accidents (boo!), and wacko fans lining the roads.

I started spinning batts from a class I took this spring, and FINISHED them all! Those are the colored skeins in the photo.

Then the next week, I started spinning my "peloton" yarn - Shetland! The white on the bobbin is fine top from Shetland sheep living in the Shetland isles via Jamieson and Smith. My other Shetland spinning isn't shown - it's bulky yarn from one of our first Shetlands - Electra. I'm making a lap blanket with two of her fleeces.

My stretch (difficult climb days) spinning was on the spindle shown above - a cashmere and silk blend. I only got a few yards spun. It's quite fine and I had a lot of "help" from the cats and dogs. They wanted to help spin that spindle - hah!

This was my favorite image from the awards ceremony - the three winners with raised, clasped hands, jubilant in their victory, and I'm sure more than a little glad the Tour was over for another year.
- Franna

Monday, July 04, 2011

Garden Bounty

Remember the photo above from mid-May?

...and this one with the baby broccoli, Brussels sprouts and leek hairs newly planted?

Here it is today - July 4th, 2011 - the 235th Birthday of the United States.

It's a bit behind the usual Western Washington garden and growing well with our recent warm weather. ...just add water!

Today, I harvested this "bounty" - our first lettuce and scallions.

The lettuce, one leaf from each of three different types of lettuce, went straight into my lunch - pastrami and mustard on Dave's Killer Good Seed bread!

Mega-flavor and crunch!!!

Below are the "shepherd's potatoes", growing in a tower made from old fencing, then lined with mulch quality fleeces, and filled with compost as the potatoes grow.

The tower below, third from the left, holds Carmine potatoes. I'm so tempted to check the bottom layer for new potatoes! It won't be long, they've got flower buds! The broccoli LOVES this weather!

...and so do the Brussels sprouts. They've grown so tall, that they fall over and I've added stakes and big rocks to prop them up! Tiny Brussels sprouts are starting to form - promises, promises!

More promises - the tomatoes are doing better than expected. They have lots of blossoms, and even...

... one little tomato! It's an heirloom variety beefsteak type - Persimmon.The corn is doing average. The rule of thumb is that corn should be "knee high by the Fourth of July". Welllll...

... with a little help the first planting of corn is knee high. The last planting is just emerged. I'm hopeful... the local corn mazes aren't up yet, either.

Beans - looking good! after a shaky start with no help from the moles. grrrrr!

One little zuccini with a big blossom! ... well behind "normal" for this area.

Carrots and Beets coming along. I can't blame the weather for these, they were planted late. Beet thinnings to come!

This goodie is one of four... count 'em... four parsnip plants that came up in 8' of row. At least there's still time to plant more parsnips.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Le Tour de Fleece - Day 1 Progress

I completed a whole batt! It took about 2 hours spinning, plying and skeining. 0.9 oz and 79 yards. The color's not quite right on my monitor, it's the center top batt in the previous post - magenta blended with white, a little grey and a bit of flash. Yeaaa! Progress!

LeTour de Fleece - Day 1

This is my chosen fiber for the 2011 Le Tour de Fleece. The idea of Le Tour is to to spin every day that the Tour de France cyclists compete, plus including challenging oneself, doing something difficult during the most difficult day of the Tour de France... you get the idea.

I've started Le Tour de Fleece the past 2 years, and haven't finished. This year I'm on the start line again! My big challenge will be to finish Le Tour. My stretch challenge will be to complete the above batts. I'll be using my Majacraft Rose, and the days I'm not at home, I'll have one of my trusty spindles with Shetland fiber. I have moorit and white in work that I take with me for demonstrations.

I took the Designer Batt class at Shepherds' Extravaganza this year - taught by Amy Wolf. These batts came from that class. The class was incredible. If you ever have the opportunity to take a class from Amy, or listen to her judge sheep or fleeces, DON'T MISS OUT!!! She is an incredible instructor and judge, always with something positive to say.

The batts are:

(Vertical from left) - Rescue batt, Gradations (dark), Gradations (light), Rainbow, Water Lilies, and horizontal - Sunset.

They're all made from Washington grown fiber :-) and include kid mohair, Romney, Gotland :-) :-) :-) , Jacob, Icelandic, Shetland, Corriedale, and some I don't remember. We got to add silk, more mohair, flash, and other assorted goodies. Amy had some examples and walked us through making shade and tint gradations, rainbow batts and rescue batts (something didn't turn out well - instead of tossing the fiber, add "things" to it!)

I think I'll start with the shade and tint gradations. I won't be alone in my spinning. My "helpers" Toby and Kat are always close by!

And just so the sheep don't feel left out... This is my favorite Gotland ewe: Gem.
Gem is 75% Gotland and 25% Finn. She has lovely, lustrous, dark grey curls, and classic Northern Shorttail conformation, plus is friendly and easy to handle. Lovely ewe!

This year, Gem gave us two beautiful 87.5% lambs. The lighter one is a ram with the tight pincurl type lamb fleece that I love. Her ewe, Crystal, has the more traditional curly fleece. Their sire is Hamish Black's (Chocolate Wool NZ) Gotland ram, Ralph.

More Le Tour and Lamb updates to come!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Mad Dash from Pasture to Pen!

This is their third excursion from pasture to pen. (Pen to pasture doesn't go quite as smoothly - yet.) There is grain in the pen and the ewes know it! The lambs just (mostly) follow their moms. At the end, I have to wait for Chamois and her triplets, then scoop one laggard through the gate into the pen.

These are most of the Gotland ewes and their lambs. Several are for sale. :-)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

6 ewes - 17 lambs

EVR Chamois and her triplets, 1 ram, 2 ewes.

We did AI late in the breeding season this year. We AI'd 6 Gotland cross ewes - 4 at 50% and 2 at 75%, then left them with the backup ram, 87.5% Gotland ram RCF Calloway, for just one cycle. The lambs came in late May and early June - two sets of twins, three sets of triplets and one set of quads! That's almost a 300% lambing rate, and more than doubled the number of lambs on the farm.

EVR Gem with her twins, a ewe and a ram

This group is being kept separate from the rest of the flock so the ewes can get extra nutrition. They're feeding many mouths! I like the lambs in general. They have nice bodies, long loins, tall legs. Several have the tight pincurl fleeces that I like, usually seen on the whites, also on some of the greys this year.

Chamois and her triplets again.

These photos were taken on the lambs first trip out to the "yard" pasture. I like having the sheep close to the house where I can just glance out the window and see them.

Bossie and her quads - from left: Chrome (ewe), Marlene (ewe), Sooty (ewe and sideways), ram.

I stole Michelle's idea of leading the ewes out to the pasture and letting the lambs follow.

Oh, my! The first time was total chaos! The ewes came just fine, but only a couple of the lambs initially crossed the "threshold" into the great unknown. With Dave holding ewes in the pasture, I made several trips back with one mom or another to pick up the strays. Finally! They were all in the pasture. I kept halters on the ewes in case they were needed on the trip back. The ewes had been confined for a while, so they only got to be on the fresh, green grass for a bit, working them up to full access.

Bossie and her quads again.

Fortunately, the trip back was like going "home" and the lambs followed very nicely... following their moms who were following me with the grain bucket. You gotta love the pig-sheep.

87.5% ewe lamb - one of Jewel's twins.

Today - I led the ewes out to the pasture with a bucket of grain. About half of the lambs followed the first time. We made the trip past the gate a couple of times and got everyone except Chamois' triplets. Putting her on a halter and leading just her to the gate got the trio moving. The second time around was much easier!

Not shown - this time - Jewel and her other daughter, Bits and her white triplets, Bunny and her grey triplets.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Digging in the Dirt

First, a gratuitous photo of one of our older hens, an Americauna. the chickens are great at digging in the dirt!

Dave got the tiller going, and the rain held off long enough to get the garden area tilled! The back left corner is where the Sheepie Hilton compost pile was. I shoveled about half of it over the garden after the first tilling, then the rest stayed put... mostly. Sheep compost is wonderful! I plan to put the tomatoes in that location.

This is an expansion of our last garden - in 2009 during one of the best growing seasons that I can remember. This garden is maybe twice as large. The portion behind and to the left of the shed is new, as is most of the back towards the stump.

So, first I laid out the garden using Territorial Seed Company's new Garden Planner. What a great tool! I moved plants around and around until I liked the layout.

I started with the potatoes. The "potato towers" have intrigued me since I saw one at the Island County Fair two years ago. Potatoes take so much garden space when grown traditionally. The towers let the potatoes grow up, and produce more potatoes in the vertical space. There are many versions on the web, and I designed my own (of course!).

We had taken this field fence wire down several years ago, and I was about ready to take it to the dump. It had been grown into the grass and took some doing to get it loose.

I chose to make my towers about 3 feet in diameter, so that's just over 6 feet of length. The bolt cutters made quick work of cutting the wire lengths. Then, I wanted the towers to be low enough that I could reach the bottom, but high enough to grow lots of potatoes!

Bending the tops down, doubling the wire at the top, then rolling it into a cylinder, securing with the cut wire ends... voila - made a potato tower. Actually, the length of fence was enough to make 6 towers.

Above is the wire doubled and ready to roll. Below are 4 of the towers sitting in their planned location (yellow squares at the left of the plan above).

The box at the left, full of junk mulch quality fleeces, has a role to play. You'll have to wait until later to see that part.

So, below are four of the potatoes placed at the bottom of their tower, ready to be covered with dirt. I got three varieties this year, Satin (a yellow midseason), Carmine (a red midseason), and Burbank Russet (the most popular potato in the US, late season). This one is Satin.

As they grow, I'll add soil, compost and maybe straw. New potatoes will grow from the covered stems. The longer the stems, the more potatoes will grow. At least that's the idea. It's important to keep the growing potatoes from the light, so as I fill the tower, the sides will have to be covered with something dark.

Next I laid out some of the paths, and put boards down to walk on. This helps keep the soil from compacting around the plant roots. The broccoli, Brussels sprouts and Leeks were the next to go in. Here they are waiting in their assigned locations - green and purple boxes on the lower right of the plan.

The starts have been living on the patio awaiting this day. I repotted the broccoli and Brussels sprouts once, giving them more growing room. I was pleased to see vigorous, healthy new roots on all the transplants.

Above are my tools of the trade - board walkway, kneeling pad, garden gloves, trowel, organic fertilizer and PLANTS! Feather, one of the barn kitties had to "snoopervize". The hole left of the gloves has a bit of fertilizer in the bottom, ready to be mixed in before putting the plant in.

Below, the little leek plants are in their trench, waiting to be covered. They had nice root systems, too, and were easily separated. We use young leeks like green onions, so planting them close together allows some thinning along with a nice harvest during fall and winter.

So, 2/3 of the potatoes, all the leeks, and the broccoli and Brussels sprouts are in the ground! There is much more, of course, to go in. Now the pots that contained the broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and leeks will have squash and melon seeds planted in them, so they can get a good start while the unsettled, cold weather forecast for the next week passes.

They look so little, with lots of space around them. Assuming all goes well, they'll fill in soon enough, and I'll feel for the boards with my feet through all the greenery. Better, will be the eating!

PS. The sky was getting dark and threatening as I was finishing. The last photo was taken with a flash! As I was going back into the house, the rain started... again. It's still raining... hard.