Strawberries and Spring Water

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Here in Canada, June is a special month.  It is when our strawberries come into season.  The short, and I mean a very short season lasting barely 3 weeks, weather depending.  So when the berries are ripe, people come en masse to pick their own or buy ready picked baskets and gorge themselves until there are no more.IMG_20160630_084240

The local berry farm is about a 10 minute drive away, down a dusty dirt road made dustier by road reconstruction along the way.  Arriving at the farm, I pull into the gravel lane and head over the front lawn which serves as the farms parking lot and back the car into a spot, immediately taking notice of several deer flies cruising around the side mirrors.  The only draw back to berry season are the deer flies…the things we must endure to get luscious, ripe berries.

I grab my floppy hat, 3 empty baskets and my trusty bug zapper.  I never go anywhere without it, otherwise you will soon be needing a blood infusion and headed down the laneway towards the strawberry fields.  There is a “bus” to take folks to and fro, but I prefer to walk (and swat) for some exercise.

Once I find where everyone else is picking, I quickly get to work filling up the baskets before the heat intensifies as well as the deer flies swarming.  In and out in about 30 minutes with 3 baskets of fresh, ripe, tasty morsels of summer.

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I head back to the entrance, pay for my goodies and hop back into the car.  On to the next stop on today’s to-do list, filling up 5 x 20 litre jugs of Spring water.  The natural Spring is a few kilometers from the berry patch and down yet another very dusty gravel road (so much for the car wash yesterday while at the dealership getting a tire fixed).  There are no signs for the Spring, just a hose coming out of the thick bush which, so I am told, is a mile or so back in.  I have no idea who owns the land or operates it, but we have been using this water source for the past 30 years, learning of its existence from the locals when we started coming up to the area before we purchased the homestead property.

As I drive along the dusty road, I slow the car down while approaching a farm that was built a few years ago, and not just any farm either.  We (ok, me) had been keeping tabs on what the owner was doing as he cleared the land of bush and started to fence in what looked like pastures.  My first thought was cattle as there are quite a few cattle farms in the area, but was I surprised one day when I came around the bend and saw alpacas!  Kismet, fate, whatever you call it, this fibre geek was thrilled to see these cute as all get out critters living so close to me.  One of these days I still have to go up the driveway and introduce myself to the owner, and maybe smuggle an alpaca into the car while there, but I digress, as I rounded the corner and slowed the car, there they were, freshly shorn and stuffing their faces full of grass.  I stopped the car, got out and took my phone out for a picture.  I whistled at them, trying to get them to look up, nope, heads down, they kept stuffing their faces.  Perhaps they are used to people driving by and whistling at them.

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I hopped back in the car just as a horsefly whizzed by my ear.  Summer is wonderful, but I sure could use a little less of the biting insects.

I headed down the road, arriving at the watering hole with no one else around.  If you try to get water on the weekends, there are cars lined up waiting, better to come during the week while it is quiet.  I turned the car around and pull up just in front of where the hose is.  As I turn the car off, I look at the side mirrors to see more deer flies swarming.  I popped the trunk lid, put my jacket on (even though it was 20C and getting warmer by the minute) pulling the hood up over my head, then I jammed my floppy beach hat on.  I may look like a total goob, but I wasn’t looking forward to getting bit on the back of the head which is where they like to for whatever reason.

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I step out of the car with trusty zapper in hand and immediately started swinging, perfecting my backhand and forehand and loop-de-looping-hand.  I start filling jugs, all the while, swatting.  After eliminating 5 or 6 of them, it quieted down and I was able to fill a couple jugs in peace.  Then another car pulled up, rats, for some reason, deer flies know cars = people and follow them.  Soon I was madly swinging the racket again.

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The fella stayed in his car until I was done, he wasn’t a newbie that’s for sure.  Once the jugs were filled and hauled out of the ditch and put in the trunk, I hopped back in the car sweating like crazy from having so much stuff on, pulling off the hat and peeling off the jacket and tossing it on the passenger seat.  There, done, time to get out of dodge before the flies pick the car up and carry it away.

I headed back to the homestead with the trunk full of jugs of Spring water and the inside of the car smelling like strawberries.  With the off-site to-do list done, I can get on with the rest of the chores, but first I must enjoy a dish of freshly picked berries.

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Deborah

 

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Meet Fert and Palladin

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10351730_10152717633959054_2321268615927224487_nFert & Palladin are Alpacas living on a farm just outside Niagara Falls, ON.  In October 2014, my daughter and her hubby went to go visit the farm on one of their very few days of the year that they allow visitors.  Unfortunately I couldn’t go with them that day (boo), but they did bring me back a piece of the farm.  In the form of 2 alpaca fleeces.  Not just a part of the fleece, but the-whole-fleece of 2 animals, which weighed about 3.5 lbs each.

Fert is a lovely brown fleece with highlights of red on the tips from the sun’s bleaching rays.  Palladin is as white as snow, after a good bath that is as both fleeces were pretty darn dusty but with minimal VM (vegetable matter, i.e. bits of hay & grass).1966716_10152717634219054_389215263030384962_nMy mind spun (get it) as to what I could make out of all this lovely, soft fibre.  An idea formed and it was time to get to work.  Once the fleeces were clean (which took me close to a month between other commitments), it was time to start carding and spinning.DSC02308_medium2

I first started with Palladin, whose newly washed fleece was brilliant white and as soft and silky as bunny fur.  With an idea in mind, I needed to figure out how much yardage required for the whole project and then back track.  Lots of math involved.   I hate math, hated it in school and always said to myself, “just where I am going to use all this darn stuff? No one can possibly use all this math stuff in the future”, well, here I am today doing tons of math not only in spinning, but weaving and knitting too.  Bah, anyway, back to math calculations and sampling, yes, sampling, not only do you have to do your math, you also have to make a small amount of yarn and then sample with it to make sure what you have in mind as gauge will work out for the intended project.  Like knitting instructions always say at the start of every pattern “To save Time, Take Time to check Gauge” (who me? guilty of NOT doing this? I won’t answer that)…..

Not wanting to waste 2 alpaca fleeces, checking my math and sett/gauge were even more important.

So I carded and spun up a small amount of fleece, then warped up my small Cricket loom to check how dense/open a fabric I wanted.  I started out at 12 epi (ends per inch) but the resulting fabric felt too stiff/dense.  I rethreaded the loom using my 8 epi heddle and while it appeared far too open, I knew that ‘wet finishing’ would tighten up the weave.  So I washed/dryed the sample and the resulting fabric was in the ballpark of what I wanted.  Time to finish the calculations now that I knew what sett (loom speak for warp thread spacing) to use.  The pic below shows fleece to finished fabric, yes, the two items on the right are gray as I was playing with natural dyes when I spun this last summer so took the opportunity to experiment at the same time.

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All that math behind me, it was now time to get into the groove of carding and spinning up all the alpaca, which took me almost a year between other projects/life.

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Once I had the last project off the loom, a blanket for a baby whose due date was looming (ha! another fibre pun!) it was time to finally get Fert & Palladin’s soft and luscious yarns wound and onto Bob the loom.

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After that, it wove up pretty quickly, a heck of a lot more time spent in prep than in actual weaving, but hey, that is the nature of the beast (another pun! I am firing on all cylinders this morning) when creating something from animal to finished product.

13260244_10156880387985291_875112006034015639_n_medium2This has been a great challenge in taking a raw material, applying newly learned skills and being self-sufficient.  I do believe I now qualify for being ready for a post-apocalyptic world, but sincerely hope that it doesn’t come to fruition.

So without further ado, here is the long-in-the-works alpaca throw blanket. Woven in a 2-2 Herringbone Twill pattern, it is soft, (seriously fuzzy, you should have seen the fuzzy dust-bunnies galloping around the condo while it was on the loom) and it has a beautiful drape and feel,  not too heavy, but with just enough weight to ‘feel’ like a blanket.  Incredibly warm too, although the temps outside this past week have been in the 30′s (Celsius), it will be put to good use come this Fall/Winter at the Homestead.

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Bob has been cleaned up and de-fuzzed but will most likely sit empty for the summer while I concentrate on my vegetable gardens and the next spinning project ~ a sweater currently being spun and knit from a whole Icelandic sheep fleece, then come Fall a couple of scarves are to be woven from gorgeous handspun and hand-dyed yarns that I have been working on.

Yes, I am busy, busy, busy, and I love it.

Deborah

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