I used to think ground squirrels were cute.
Last year, however, we were overrun with them, and they destroyed much of my dye garden.
The marigolds, madder, amaranth, and sunflowers thrived, but the indigo, which unfortunately is an annual, was squirrel food. Wanting to be humane, I tried pouring hot pepper sun-tea around the plants. It discouraged them, but not for long.
This year, I tried seeds, to no avail, and finally bought a few plants. They came in the mail (!) and so far have been undetected by squirrels. The growing season here is so short; I can only hope to get usable indigo this year.
I want to be able to get this blue again. I'm committed to using dyes from only what I can grow or find here.
I also wish I could find these colors in the mushrooms I find in our forest. I've been collecting and experimenting.
So now I just have to figure out a way to discourage the squirrels, without resorting to the slingshot or a pellet gun. Trapping them and releasing them to some other place they'll be unwanted doesn't appeal either. There is a feral cat that showed up a few weeks ago and I spotted her with a squirrel in her mouth...
Instead of just thinking and talking about it, I jumped in and started a Fibershed affiliate! Reading over all the material on the Northern California Fibershed website inspired me to take charge of spreading the concepts beyond my Shear Bliss booth, so I filled out the affiliate application and...
A Fibershed is a geographical landscape that defines and gives boundaries to a natural textile resource base. Regional fibersheds adopt the precept that we should be as concerned with the origin of fiber that makes textiles as we are with the origin our food. I will be helping promote those farmers in our area who grow natural fibers and the artisans who use those fibers for their products.
The Feather River Fibershed will include Plumas, Sierra, and Lassen counties. Now to find and connect all the fiber farmers and artisans...
I used to laugh at this play on words as a kid, but now as a sheep farmer it has taken on a more somber tone.
Straw isn't necessarily cheap, and good straw is not easy to come by. Hay is even more precious. Fifteen dollars a bale is a decent price these days, for good-quality alfalfa or alfalfa/grass mix (7 years ago I wouldn't have known the difference). We are loyal to our Loyalton alfalfa grower (pun unintentional) and travel the hour and a half one-way to load our Chevy with bales about once a month. Our own growing season is so short here that we can't rely solely on pasture to feed the sheep. Yesterday, I went along for the journey for the first time in about a year. One of us usually stays at the farm to keep an eye on things. But the lambs are sturdy, the spring is flowing, and I had a hankering to try out the Mexican restaurant in Sierraville.
Sierra Valley is one of the largest alpine (above 5000 ft) valleys in the U.S.
I had forgotten all the many twists and turns to get there, but the waft of sage through the windows made me glad I'd come.
Lovely alfalfa growing on the left, the hay barn up ahead.
Most other times I've made the trip out here the barn has been stacked, floor to ceiling, with hay. Where is it?
Gene's getting the last of the 2012 alfalfa. Our next trip will be for second-cut (another term I've learned in my new shepherdess life) alfalfa, probably in August.
Can you hear the ruckus from our sheep as Gene backs up the truck to our hay-storage hoop house? They know.
Tired from the long drive, we decided to pop open a beer, kick back and enjoy the view and save off-loading hay until tomorrow...
...which turned out to be a mistake. With no hint of warning from the National Weather Service, we had a hefty downpour last night, which left many of the hay bales soaked around the edges. We off-loaded them in a hurry this morning, leaving plenty of room between single bales, hoping that the now dry, windy weather will prevent them from molding. Another lesson learned; guess we'll be same-day off-loading from now on...
I have just finished skirting all the fleeces and have so much wool to work with over the next year! I'll try to plan my washing days for summer warmth without wind. We've been getting gusty days lately and I don't want my wool scattered all over the farm!
Besides discovering who in the flock got into the hay the most (all that vm to pick out...) I love discovering the difference between the color of the outer tips of wool and the hidden cut side.
As I prepare for the craft fair/farmers market season, I have been madly playing with wool. I have discovered the joy of the felting process, both needle-felting and wet-felting, and have experimented with new items for the Shear Bliss booth this season. My Jacob wool seems ideal for both processes; it felts easily and the natural colors inspire a variety of ideas. Amazingly light and sturdy, the "cobweb felt" scarves are so much fun; it's like a combination of painting and playing with clay: a color and textural thrill.
I am inexplicably drawn to spirals.
This scarf, just laid out, has grey wool from Tehya (one of our original ewes from Meridian Jacobs; she always produces gorgeous, soft wool) and silk threads from recycled Indian saris.
Rather than the typical roll-it-800 times-around-a-pool-noodle method, I invested in a fantastic felting tool from HeartFelt Silks. It's a wooden hand tool with a waffle-texture bottom. Wet-felting is hard, physical work, but the results are so satisfying.
And then there's needle-felting. Sometimes the whimsy comes out...
I heard somewhere that wool is good for keeping pins sharp, so why not fun, useful pincushions?
I will soon have these new items up on the website.
I went out to the pasture today, hoping to get some action shots with the lambs, who have been so very entertaining with their 180s and paddock-racing these past few weeks. Instead, I found drowsy sheep in siesta mode.
Savoring the precious scenes of lambs and moms sleeping, and thinking about the long process of processing fleeces by hand, I got musing about how this all fits in with the "slow movements" -- the
cultural shifts toward slowing down life's pace. Wool is a "slow" fiber; its qualities are well worth the wait, and handspinning the wool is a "slow" activity, nurturing the spirit with meditative calm and the mindfulness one engages in while transforming the fibers into yarn.
Check out this extraordinary concept, which expands much of my personal philosophy to a wide community. Unfortunately, our farm is outside the 150-mile radius of the fibershed. Perhaps we can grow this idea here in Plumas County...