Category Archives: Traverse City Yarn

Things to do when not farming…

The seed catalogs are piling up and it’s a constant reminder of how in flux we’ll be as of

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Identifying cool mushrooms…

June. It’s been a long time since I’ve not put in a large seed order, and frankly, I’m feeling a bit antsy about it this season. So, to take my mind off of what I won’t be doing, I’m thinking ahead to the things this extra time will provide in terms of opportunities for learning. An ever-growing, ever-bearing, zone 1-10 list of things to learn while not farming:

  • Tend to the travelling orchard
  • Improve spinning technique
  • Improve fiber processing set-up and technique
  • Experiment with natural dyes
  • Learn about medicinal herbs
  • Practice grafting techniques
  • Volunteer at school or public garden
  • Help a fellow farmer with farm chores, butchering, shearing, etc.
  • Learn old-fashioned candy-making
  • Focus on food preservation techniques:
    • Pressure canning
    • Smoking meats
    • Drying
    • Fermentation
  • Take a class in business planning for the fiber mill
  • Maybe, just maybe, learn a new knitting skill
  • Explore niche or value added markets
  • Take a botany class
  • Spend some time with growers using methods outside of your own, including conventional, biodynamic, and other permaculture or organic farmers and gardeners
  • Cut up seed catalogs to make art with the kids
  • Cut up seed catalogs to do some companion planting planning
  • Re-read Edible Forest Gardens

The list continues to grow and hope blooms eternal, so… suggestions are always welcome and may spring shine warm sunlight upon your gardens!

A Simple Twist that Launched the Modern Era

imageI had never given it much thought previously, but on numerous occasions at the farm, I’ve found myself in need of rope or string and had to twist long grasses as a temporary fix. This is likely how our understanding of the strength gained by twisting fibers grew until we began moving from plant materials like hemp, cotton, and flax to shorter animal fibers like those that come from sheep or alpaca.

That simple twist increases the durability of the fibers considerably by allowing fewer movement between (or increasing pressure and friction on) individual fibers. There’s a whole science to the ideal twist per fiber type, if you’re into that sort of thing. And to take it a step further, this simple act of twisting and plying fibers yielded some pretty significant inventions including cloth, rope, handles, sails, rigging, junkyarnnetting, etc. Try to imagine our lives without it.

Due to the recent move and our temporary living arrangement, I’m not spinning on the
wheel, nor am I processing fiber. I do, however, have the drop spindle and make time each night for some twisting and whirling which never feels like an isolated action, but one handed down generation to generation to generation, a reminder of our ingenuity as humans and our innate desire to remain connected, whether to our animals, to one another, to our ancestors, or to the earth.

 

A day in the life…

We are a family of six. That translates to two kids per parent. Factor in a dog, cat, and four alpacas, and meal planning/preparation, and you can see how a day goes by very quickly for our household. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love farming, but this kind of farming is unique for us. We do not live at the property and without electricity and running water, we have to make daily trips hauling materials in during the winter months over-top heavy snowfall and no matter the weather, and as often as two to three times daily.

photo 1Water is carried in three-gallon drums. We fill it at home and carry the water uphill through the snow because there is no way for our car to traverse the drive this time of the year. It’s good cardio, but not half as good as the 50lb bags of pellets or the even heavier dense hay we carry bale by bale.

A hay shortage this year meant we could not stock up as we had done previously, but thankfully we found a really good supplier just 12 miles from the farm. Today, we’ll haul in another load, bale by bale, through the snow, uphill the whole way. I’m just grateful it’s good grass hay (harder to find with such high demand fphoto 3or alfalfa mixed bales in our area).

Yesterday, was a straw day. We stack two bales on the Prius roof once a week for bedding. The straw is light and not as difficult to maneuver, but takes time, like anything, when traversing heavy snow.

The daily tasks at the farm include the removal of the evening dung-pile (it’s amazing what an alpaca bottom can produce in a day), watering of the animals, a daily ration of pellets (a treat and supplement), hay feed, and feeding the cat, who has taken up residence with the alpacas. They form a harmonious grouping. Cats and alpacas pair well together and the cat keeps the mice away from the feed and I often find the cat and the alpacas nestled together in the deep straw bedding.

Next comes the dumping of the collected dung outside of the barn, then a walk around the perimeter to ensure the fence is in good order. Usually a few nuzzles and snuggles are exchanged and that concludes the first round.

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Another aspect of having alpacas is the grooming. We do not groom their fiber, but we do keep their nails clipped, which is not a very pleasant process for the farmer, unaccustomed to wrestling a 200-lb animal during its routine foot-care.

This summer, I learned to administer both IM and SQ injections for vitamins and vaccines. Also not my favorite task, but part of the routine care of the animals. There’s the shearing, but that’s a biennial event for Suris, and thankfully one we can hire out (though we successfully sheared two on our own – I may be slightly stretching the use of the word “successful” in this instance).

Farming is not for the faint of heart. And farming in this fashion is reminiscent of something older. At times I am working in complete darkness, by feel, and other times I find myself breathing standing before the large looming barn with the feeling time has stopped in this place altogether. It’s a peaceful feeling and I am grateful this special place has been preserved for many future generations to experience and enjoy.

“Rebel” & “Detroit” Hand-spun Alpaca Yarn

“Rebel” 120yd $18

“Rebel” is available for purchase at this time. This is at minimum, an 80% alpaca blend giving off hints of rose-grey, pink, purple, and blues. Of course, I think everyone should make socks, but would make a lovely winter hat or scarf for the warmth or request multiple skeins and receive a discounted rate. This skein made using our Suri Tassa-Frass (aka “swift-footed-kicking-monster”), fiber from a rose-grey Huacaya from a neighboring farm (makes the ladies swoon), and some Shetland fibers from a farm in Petoskey.

“Detroit” is named for the timing of the skein.  A friend wanted me to spin up some fibers to sell in Detroit, where, according to a recent Detroit Free Press article, yarn shops are needed/wanted. We are still trying to think of a way to cooperatively connect these fibers with the people of Detroit on a regular basis, but in the meantime, we’re selling some of the inventory to pay for routine farm upkeep.

“Detroit” 148 YD $22

This yarn is fun, vibrant, and unique, much like the revitalization, renewal, and greening projects we’ve seen already in Detroit. Another 80% alpaca blend, using mostly fibers from Ebony (the gentlest one), and a blend of our other Suri gals.

To purchase yarn, and to see other available skeins, please email healingtreefarm@gmail.com to arrange a farm visit or other pick-up option.

Website back up and running! (And yarn)

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Rebel-spun yarn. I made that up, but playing with different plying techniques on the same skein and enjoying the look. Feels a bit rebellious.

We ran into some technical difficulties (as in this gal did not know the difference between domain mapping and domain), but all is well (thanks to people in my life who understand these things). Spinning up some lovely yarn today and will post several skeins for sale when I have a chance to get photos up.

In the meantime, thank you to those who connected us with available hay in neighboring areas. We truly appreciate it (as will the alpacas). And remember, it’s still summer. Swimming is still an option and snow shovels are a made-up thing. Get to the shore!