Week on the Farm – September 11, 2016

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Today has been busy, ending a busy week.  The huge line trimmer was hauled out yesterday and Jim went after areas in need, around the well head, around the yard hydrants, patches that have too many rocks to mow with the tractor.  Today, I used it to go around the garden, woodpile, and coops.  That upset the young cull chickens who all managed to escape, one into the garden, one vanished for a couple of hours, the other four herded back into their pen.  The one in the garden was caught and returned, the errant wanderer came home and was herded back into his pen.  Last weekend, son, eldest grandson, and I killed and butchered B’rooster and Mean Girl.  I thought I would miss the morning crowing and did for only a couple of days.  One of the youngsters is trying out his voice, an immature croaking rooster crow.  As most, if not all of the culls are cockerels, we will surely hear a lot more of that before November, when they too are sent to freezer camp.

This week has yielded a batch of Habeñero sauce, another batch of sweet chili sauce, applesauce, and Ginger Pear Conserve, all prepped, cooked, and canned.  Lots of goodies to add to the pantry shelves in the root cellar.

Goodies Habenero

Tonight after dinner, daughter, the grands and I went to the garden, harvested a half pillowcase full of popcorn, 5 gallons of tomatoes and hot peppers.  Once inside, the popcorn was set aside to dry out for winter enjoyment, the tomatoes were stuffed in freezer bags and popped in the freezer so they can be peeled and canned later this week, the Tabasco peppers were de-stemmed, pureed in salt water and set to ferment to make Tabasco sauce in a couple of weeks.  The jalapeños were packed in another pint jar and hot salted vinegar poured over them to begin pickling.  The habeñeros packed in freezer bags, I just can’t face more hot sauce right now.  A few anchos begin the drying process to be used in enchilada sauce once they are leathery dry.

popcorn

 

Today, the gift was finished.  Pictures of it will have to wait until the recipient receives it.

Sometime this week, I will pull the 5 bags of Roma tomatoes out of the freezer and they will be peeled, chopped and made into canned tomatoes, chili tomatoes, and pasta sauce.  There will probably be a few more harvests of them before they quit.  The pepper plants are beginning to bloom thickly, so many more peppers are expected.  I think the Tabasco and Habeñero plants will be pulled, as we just don’t need any more of those peppers.  The Thai peppers are beginning to turn red, I need to find a good use for them. The Jalapeño and Ancho plants need more space and removing the other plants will help provide that.  The dye seed sunflowers need to be cut back before the birds eat them all and the raspberry canes need to be trimmed and weeded.  I still have tomatillos to harvest, but they being transplants are just getting going.

Today was cooler and the week ahead is supposed to be seasonable, so more outdoor work will be done.

Now I can pull my spinning wheel out and begin to spin some of the lovely fibers that have been accumulating.

I Didn’t Think I Would Get Here

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With all of the awayness last month, I felt overwhelmed and frustrated that I was so far behind that I couldn’t catch up. The grass was tall, the stick weed invading the hay fields, the apples, Asian Pears, and tomatoes ripe. Applications were due. My chickens were disappearing daily to a red tail hawk.  Usually, I can take one step at a time, but this time, I just couldn’t see an end in sight.

Jim stepped in and hopped on the tractor, mowing more than half of the fields in need of attention.  I like riding the tractor, like mowing, so I did get on it a few times, mowing the areas around the house and around the trees.  I mowed the smallest west field, the one with the rock bar.

After a couple of days at home where I awoke disoriented, wondering which bed I was in that night, I finally got a good sound night sleep and the rest allowed me to start tackling the problems at hand.  I came up with a solution to keep the hawk out of my chicken runs, harvested a 5 gallon bucket of tomatoes and got them canned along with the ones in the freezer as diced tomatoes and pasta sauce; harvested apples and made applesauce.  The weekly supply of peaches was made into sweet chili sauce.  The quart of ground hot chilies, mostly habeñeros, was made into hot pepper sauce and all of the applesauce, sweet chili sauce, and hot pepper sauce canned, labelled and making their way to the root cellar shelves.  Another harvest of tomatoes await preparation into sauce.  The Asian Pears still need to be harvested and made into Ginger Pear Conserve and pear sauce, but I now look forward to working on them in days to come.

saucy  Filling shelves applesauce Drygoods

Now that the applications for fall shows are in, I need to make a few batches of soap, but that too is something I look forward to doing.

Another task that was on my plate, was making a gift that I had started twice, undid twice, and finally decided that I would not even unpack my spinning wheel until it was done.  Daily work on it has rewarded me with a gift that will be finished within a few more days.

The shelves are filling for a winter of good food.  The fields are mowed, and it has been dry for about a week, so the grass is not growing fast enough for me to watch.  I am feeling good about our efforts.

 

Finished and Just Beginning

A few days ago, just after Jim finished mowing the south hay field, Granddaughter N came tearing into the room and said, they was something in that field.  I looked out the south windows and saw what looked like a coyote, but it was all black.  With the binoculars, I saw 3 coyotes.  Two were the typical reddish gray that we see, the other was all black and slightly larger.  They were out in the open during daylight hours, not in any hurry exploring the edge of the field.  We often hear them, but rarely see them. Early the next morning, we heard a huge pack yipping and howling.

Yesterday, I finished the last of the fall field mowing, even figured out how to mow the dreaded rock bar without grinding away at the blade on the rocks.  While I was mowing just beyond the orchard, I saw apples dropping, so I went over and shook the little trees and it rained apples.  I tried one for eating, they are cooking apples though.  The eating apples took a hit with the late frost and did not produce fruit this year.  I now have a 5 gallon bucket nearly full of apples that are going to have to be peeled and cooked down to applesauce in the next couple of days.  The Asian Pears need harvesting too, so this week will be dedicated to making Ginger Pear Conserve and Applesauce,  may some Pear Sauce if there are too many just for the conserve.  Another harvest of tomatoes is due too, which means more canning or freezing of them.

We got in our Saturday morning ritual with breakfast out and a trip to the Farmers’ Market.  I turned in my application for the Holiday Markets, bought some good, handmade bagels, salad, eggplant, carrots, beets, and cucumbers.  These are all items I either don’t grown or have quit in my garden for the year.  I also got some pork, and a beautiful bouquet, made especially for me by the talented Gwynn of Stonecrop Farm.

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Eldest son and grandson arrived late afternoon for a weekend with us. He is going to help up repair a couple of rotting boards on our back deck if his headache subsides.

I finally finished netting over the cull pen and they got released into the grass and sunshine. B’rooster and Mean girl with the young cockerels. The Buff Orpington cockerel and two you pullets that were in the cull pen, but we’re moved into the hen coop, seem to be holding their own.

Busy Days

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The past few days have been busy.  Granddaughter started back to preschool, the dogs have had check ups and shots, we have been busy around the farm.

Between us, most of the fields have been mowed for fall.  I haven’t harvested the pears or apples yet, as I have been trying to catch up on tomatoes and peaches.  One day, I canned 30 pints of tomatoes and pasta sauce.  Of that, only a few didn’t seal, so we had a big spaghetti dinner last night and the leftover sauce was put in wide mouth jars and frozen.  We will use it first before we start opening the sealed jars.

Days work

Each Tuesday, daughter and son-in-law pick up a one person food share of meat and one of fruit as a test to see if it is worth their money.  A lot of the fruit has been peaches, though the late frost killed off almost all of the peaches around here, so they must be bringing them from south of us.  Jim and I are the only ones in the house that will eat a fresh peach.  The first batch was made into peach/mango chutney, a very authentic tasting chutney.  The second batch were peeled, sliced, and frozen.  The third batch went to the spinning retreat with me and were enjoyed by the group.  The fourth batch was sitting there about to attract fruit flies, so I made 9 half pints of sweet chili sauce today.  I tasted a bit of it and it is sweet and spicy with hot chili sauce added.  It should make a great chicken or pork basting sauce or topping.  I think it would be good over cream cheese with crackers.  It is cooling on the counter and will be added to the increasing jars of goodies on the shelves.

Sweet chili sauce

Tonight late, our eldest son and eldest grandson will arrive for the weekend.  I have a dry rub pork shoulder that I will cook in the crockpot tomorrow and I think one of the jars of sweet chili sauce, a jar of the apple/pear chutney from last year, the last  jar of Pear Ginger Conserve will all be put out to eat with the pulled pork and slaw with a batch of roasted veggies for out dinner.

Tomorrow, we will get to return to the Farmers’ Market for the first time in a month.  We will precede that with breakfast out, and I will turn in my applications for the two winter Holiday Markets.

I am loving being able to return to a routine and see things getting done.

Progress

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Jim has gotten the huge far hay field mowed.  We still have the east field and the near south field to do as well as mowing around the trees that we planted as a wind break, around the barn and up the small hill at the top of the driveway.  Between us, about half of the 30 acres has been mowed.

We will take turns riding the tractor to get it finished.  I do most of the close to the house and around the tree work, he likes to ride the long open areas.  One area, neither of us like to do as it has lots of rocks that are just high enough to cause the brush hog to clip them, just low enough to be hard to see when the grass is high.

Yesterday after the rain, I went out and weeded some in the garden, tossed pounds of spoiled and split tomatoes, overgrown cucumbers, and weeds to the chooks, hoping to lure them out into their new covered run.  I harvested somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 pounds of tomatoes, nearly 4 pounds of tomatillos, 2 1/2 pounds of mostly hot peppers.  The tomatillos have been husked, washed and bagged, and put in the freezer. The habañeros and Tabascos, along with a few tiny red jalapenos were added to the other hot peppers that I have been accumulating in the salted vinegar.  Since the jar was full and there were more peppers than space, I ground the mixture up together in the blender.  I will have to make a batch of hot sauce with it soon.  The jalapenos were pickled, adding two more pints for son and Jim to enjoy this winter.

jungle

This photo was taken standing in the jungle of tomatoes and peppers.  I can’t even find the path between them.  Last year the peppers stayed small, the tomatoes controllable.  The rain has changed that this year.  I need to go out, stake and tie up some of the peppers, trim some tomato branches, and cut down the dye seed sunflowers.  The Tabasco peppers are all red, so I am thinking about just pulling the plants to make some room.  They will dry nicely hanging upside down in the garage.

While out there to harvest, I got about half way down the row nearest the asparagus and met up with this critter.

spider

This was the biggest garden spider I have ever seen.  The spider’s body without the legs was about 2 inches long.  I am not a fan of spiders, but I also will not kill one outdoors unless it is a Black Widow (I have found and killed two of them this summer).  Though I won’t kill them, I also wasn’t going to try to reach around that critter and it’s web to pick tomatoes, so I took a stick and relocated the spider to the asparagus patch and continued to pick these.

tomatoes

 

I started the morning with more than 35 pounds of tomatoes.  I peeled and chopped the ones I froze a couple of weeks ago and dumped them in a huge pot.  Weighed out 18 pounds and set them aside and chopped the rest and cooked them just until they began to break down.  From that pot, I canned 9 pints and 4 quarts of diced plain tomatoes.  While the quarts were canning and the canner cooling down, I peeled and diced the 18 pounds, added them to a large chopped onion, some garlic, basil, oregano, and parsley and it is simmering in a huge pot on the stove waiting for the canner to fully de-pressurize so that it can be jarred and canned.

sauce

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This will be the routine several times a week for the next couple of months until we are threatened with a frost.  The Asian pears are ripe and Ginger Pear Conserve production is also in order.  The apples look like they are about ready too, though I haven’t tried eating one yet.  Applesauce production is also on the schedule.  Soon the basement shelves will begin to fill.

The basement refrigerator is filling with pickles, pickled jalapenos, and kraut.  The canning shelves being emptied of jars to be filled and replaced with filled jars of chutney, tomatoes, conserves, and spaghetti sauce.  Soon the applesauce will also begin to fill shelves.  Though the bunnies got all of my beans this year, there are peas in the freezer and still some squash from last summer.

Jim is out mowing the upper south field while I can.  Tomorrow, I will take over for a bit.

The chickens still won’t come out of their coop but for brief moments.  I have enticed them with split tomatoes, overripe cucumbers, and a whole bucket of compost veggies. Tonight after dark, B’rooster will be removed from the hens to the cull coop. He is tearing up the hens backs and I don’t want any more chicks this year.  There is one Buffy pullet and one Buffy cockerel in the cull coop that will be moved in with the hens. The cockerel will be next spring’s rooster. If I can figure out which of the half breeds are pullets, I may move one of them too.  With the loss of two of my layers this summer, egg production is down some, but we are still getting more than the family needs.   Soon it will be molting time and egg production will stop as I have no year old hens this year, but they will grow back their feathers and be clean and warm for the winter.

The Buffet Is Closed

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A good night’s sleep and clearer minds prevailed this morning.  A run to Home Depot for a 100′ roll of 15′ wide bird net, 3 long poles, and a roll of velcro plant tie up tape, total expenditure only $40 and my birds should be safe.  The hawk, if it dives into that net will require me to call my neighbor’s son, a licensed raptor handler.

My solution involved attaching a length of polycord to the top of the coop, half hitching it around the top of two of the tall poles, then anchoring it to a T post deeper in the run.  A length of 6′ tall plastic deer fencing that I already had was used to shorten the length of the run to just beyond the gate that the chickens use to get into the garden when they are allowed.  A thin flexible fiberglass pole that I also already had on hand was arched between the two sides of the run just above the new back fence line.  Using the polycord like a clothes line, I worked the bird netting over the top, draping it over the side fencing and anchoring it in place with strips of the velcro tape.  At the coop end, the netting was carried over the roof.  The only open space left was above the gate and that was closed in by draping another piece of netting to the top net and dangling it down a few inches lower than the top of the gate.  That piece not being anchored at the sides or bottom can be pushed out of our way when we open the gate and the net cage is about 7+ feet high down the center, so as long as I don’t have my hair up with clips or sticks to catch in the net, I can move about within the run.

netcage

I effectively created a cage that has wire sides and a net top that is tall enough to walk in.  Hopefully, it will protect the chickens if they ever get brave enough to go out again.  I removed their food and water from inside the coop and ran them out.  Each explored a bit, then went right back inside the coop instead of under it like they usually do during the day.  I guess when they get hungry or thirsty, they will venture out and eventually learn that they can again be outside.

After that run was finished, I began on a shorter version for the cull birds, however, it started raining a little, then a lot, so I quit for the time.

I did get the first harvest of tomatillos brought in and see many pounds of tomatoes that must be picked and processed pronto.  I will venture back out in a little while now that the afternoon storm seems to be passing and pick a bucket full.  There are many split ones, lots of overgrown, over ripe cucumbers to toss to the chickens, maybe that will entice them out.

A follow up on the old Opossum that visited while at my son’s house.

Opossum

He came back last Thursday, the day I left, cuddled up against their lawnmower under the porch and died.  Wildlife experts say they only live about 2 years in the wild, but he looked like a little shriveled old man.  Daughter in law took him away from the house and buried him.

First full day back

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I woke quite early again today and having convinced myself that the pullet and hen loss was from raccoons going after the birds that wouldn’t coop up at night, and given that most of today was going to be spent in close proximity to the coops, I let the chickens out, removed their food and water from their coops to the outside, and added new straw to give them clean bedding.

Grandson was awakened, fed, and transported to the bus, granddaughter was awakened, fed, and transported to her preschool Open House to reunite with some friends and make some new ones.  Once home, the tractor was driven out and the mowing commenced.  I tackled the thick tall grass that we consider our lawn and even with the tractor and brush hog, it was a challenge in some places.  I will have to go back over it in a couple of days to hopefully break up and disperse the clumps that formed.  Once I finished with that part, Jim took the tractor to the far hay field and began down there.  I had left him only about a quarter tank of diesel and told him, I was going to get some fuel and something to prepare for dinner.  Granddaughter and I got back up the mountain with just a few minutes before the afternoon school bus was due, so we waited.  Jim called to tell me he had run out of fuel before I got there and when he got back to the house on foot, he heard a ruckus in the chicken pen.  I was wrong about my predator.  It was a large hawk and it had my last pullet that I had put in the hen coop.  That means that I have lost all of my replacement hens and two older hens this summer.  I cooped them and the culls back up and I have to do something to prevent the opportunistic hawk from feeding in my chicken runs.  We live in the midst of 30 acres of woods and hay fields ripe with rabbits, squirrels, small birds, snakes, mice, voles, etc. but the hawk has found a food source that doesn’t require hunting and has a convenient large nut tree nearby to escape to.

Between us, we got about a quarter of the grass and fields mowed today with nice days due the rest of the week, so maybe we will get it finished.  Neighbors are mowing and some are second cut haying now also.

I didn’t get any harvest done today, nor did I figure out how I am going to protect the remaining chickens.  My run fences are 4 feet tall.  If I cover them, I can’t get in to change water, open the pop door, or close them up at night without duck walking under a 4 foot high net.  To raise the fence height to 6 feet tall, even if I cut the run size in half, will require taking down existing fencing, pulling up T posts, and starting over with 7 foot posts, new fence wire and then netting or tarping the top.  That would require another major investment in funds on top of the purchased coop, existing fencing, and labor building the two reclaimed coops, all for a handful of laying hens and a few meat chickens. So far, I have no sound ideas on how to create a tunnel fastened to the existing posts that would raise the cover without starting over.  Perhaps the existing T posts can support cattle panels bent to an arch then draped with netting, but still an expense.

It is too hot to keep the laying coop closed up all day for days on end.  I will lose them to illness or heat if I have to do that.

Tomorrow, there is no preschool, so maybe I can get some garden work done while Jim finishes the far field.  And maybe after sleeping on it, I will come up with at least a temporary inexpensive solution to protecting my laying hens and meat culls.  Life and death on a farm is expected, but I am getting very frustrated with my inability to keep my chickens safe.

Life on and off the farm

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The past 19 days have been a whirlwind of here and there, mostly there.  First we went away for the final interment of my Dad’s cremains and dedication of a memorial plaque at one of his favorite places in the world.  I started that trip by catching a bad cold from our live in grand daughter.  We were away 4 nights, 5 days.  We returned home for me to launder clothes, harvest and freeze some tomatoes, and pack to leave again in 4 days.

That trip took me north in the state to help out at eldest son’s house with the start of school week and to allow son and daughter in law to work.  I stayed there for a week, supervising the eleven year old grandson, getting him on the bus in the morning, off in the afternoon, and getting dinner for them.  Since there was a weekend incorporated in that week, some fun activities were included.  Grandson and I went to a local cavern and took their tour, we took a hike, I got a long walk in one morning, some spinning done, read a book, knitted a hat, and did a bit of laundry.

I left there at 5:30 a.m. Thursday morning, arrived home at 9:45 a.m., washed a load of laundry, did a bit of straightening, unpacked and repacked, this time to attend a fiber arts conference.  I was only home for less than 3 hours then loaded into a friend’s car and we rode for 4 more hours to Roan Mountain State Park in Tennessee and checked into a great fully equipped cabin.

RoanCabin

This was a great weekend with a great group of folks, spinning, knitting, crocheting, teaching a class, taking a class, and vending as my Cabin Crafted Shop.  We enjoyed each other’s company, shared breakfast and lunch plus one dinner in our cabin.  One dinner in a local BBQ restaurant, and a group Pot Luck supper.  I finished spinning a few ounces of Romney fiber that I dyed, finished knitting another hat for my shop, generally was too tired at night to read, but learned a new fiber skill, met dozens of wonderful folks and had a great time.

I am finally home, just in time for the school year routine to begin tomorrow, getting grandson off to  his first day of school, granddaughter to Open House for her second year of preschool.

The farm is in dire shape.  The fields need to be mowed, the grass around the house is so tall that it may have to be mowed twice over two days to get it to lawn height without causing huge clumps to sit around, dry and kill and remaining grass.  The flower beds are full of weeds, the garden looks like a jungle and daughter says there are many tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers that need to be harvested and processed.  The chickens were not cooperative to Jim, daughter, and son in law, and as a result, we lost a hen and 3 of my spring pullets that wouldn’t coop up at night.  The one I found upon my return looked like perhaps it got attacked during the night by a raccoon or owl due to the remains.  They thought it was a hawk, but the bird was not carried off.  At any rate, I need to try to improve the security of their runs and try to put net over the top if the predator was a bird.  My layer flock is down two hens this summer, and three of the four pullets that I hoped to increase the flock are gone.

I have a month, minus 4 days to get things taken care of, to make more soap and a few salves before I leave for another fiber retreat, where I also will vend.  And I need to get my application in for the Holiday Markets.

Some summers allow me to stay on top of things, this one has not.  I only hope that I can still salvage enough tomatoes for some salsas and sauces.

Now, I am exhausted and must get up in 7 hours, so it is time for sleep.

Last Day on the Creek

Grandson has been put on the bus moments ago for the last time by me this week.  It is 7:30 a.m. and by this time tomorrow, I will be about a third of the way home, leaving in the early morning hours when son leaves for his commute to work.  Daughter-in-law resumes morning and household chores and getting into the schedule that they will follow for the year.  I will arrive home with just enough time to trade out some items from my suitcase, load up a cooler, my teaching supplies, my vending items, and my fiber toys to leave again for a few days at a fiber arts retreat.  Fortunately, I don’t have to drive those three hours, after having driven 3 1/2 to get home.

Yesterday, I took my own advice and just hung out around the house, enjoying the quiet, but not exactly idle.  I still did some laundry and prepared dinner, but my car never moved from it’s shady spot.

Creek

 

I wrote earlier this week about the burbling creek sounds.  This was taken from the front porch, outside the window where I am sleeping at night.  As you see, the creek is just in front of the house.  It flows downstream from right to left to the 5 port culvert system that serves as the driveway for the three houses.

Culvert

As fall is approaching with the leaves that will fall, I decided yesterday to make myself useful, putting on my Chacos and wading into the creek to remove the branches and debris that were accumulating in front of the ports.  I know that once the leaves begin to fall, that the branches would catch the floating leaves and quickly block up the flow of the creek, causing the potential for some flooding.  The small branches and some larger ones were tossed up on the deck and them moved to a burn pile away from the creek edge.  The larger log that you see, was totally across the left most port, but was too heavy for me to do more than pivot.  Son says he will take care of it on a non work day. The creek again flows unimpeded through the culverts until the next storm brings down more to block the flow.

After grandson got home yesterday, Ole Mr. Opossum paid a visit.  He hunkered down under the porch for a spell.

Opossum

He really is a skinny old critter, slow moving, and pretty unperturbed by my photo opportunity.  I still haven’t seen the raccoon family.

Once grandson had showed me his planner, done his afternoon duties, and had dinner, he pulled out his bow and had some target practice.  He developed an interest in archery at camp about three summers ago, and was given a nice bow, case, and arrows for Christmas last year.  He won the certificate for best archer at camp this summer.  I was impressed with his stance and his ability.

The archertarget

He clustered all 6 arrows on three sets of shots.

The morning load of laundry is on the line, my spinning wheel will be packed up shortly and I will spend the day reading and knitting.  Dinner will be prepared by me for one last time this visit and tomorrow morning, this stay will end until I am needed again.

 

Quiet on the creek

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The pastoral setting of son’s families house, is eerily quiet when they are at work and grandson is at school.  The road is not a busy one, with only a few vehicles passing each day.  Most of the land surrounding this scattered complex of 3 houses owned by the landlord is the holdings of one family.  On Sunday morning, I walked up the road more than a mile and all of the No Trespassing signs on both sides of the road, have the same family name on them.  Though they have cattle, the pastures are too far away to hear them calling to each other as we hear at home.  There are horses in the other direction, but I have not heard any whinnying from that direction either.  Mostly the sound is the burbling creek, the cicadas, and an occasional bird call.

Late last night, some critter got into the recycling on the back porch and rattled cans and bottles around for a bit, but it was chilly last night, so that noise was muted through the closed back door.

Other than daily household chores, such as dishes, and laundry, I have had quiet idle time to read (currently, A Brilliant Death, by Robin Yocum), knit (hats), or spin.  Yesterday, I finished a 208 yard skein of Shetland breed wool that I had dyed in Buttercup and Ripe Tomato color dyes.  It didn’t come out with the longer runs of singles colors that I expected, but it is bright and interesting.  It attracted a local hummingbird as it hung on the clothesline to dry.  My camera isn’t good enough to catch a hummingbird zipping around.

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This skein is dk weight, enough for a hat or cowl with interesting color mix, reds, yellows, salmons, and orange.

I can’t decide whether to spin more of the fiber that I brought, or finish knitting the hats with the yarn that I brought.

The old man Opossum finally showed up this morning.  He walked slowly down the hill across the road, wandered that side of the road for a bit in the sun, like an elder warming his bones.  He ambled across the road to this side and I lost sight of him, so my photo is zoomed on my phone.  He is a scruffy old character.

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I still have not seen the raccoon family.

Mostly, I want to be slow and lazy like Mr. Opossum.