25 July 2009

The Great Laundry Race of 2009

On your marks ... get set ... go!

It's the Great Laundry Race of 2009. :)

What is the Great Laundry Race? It's your opportunity to help discover the true answer to this burning question:

How much time does a person actually spend getting the laundry dried and folded?

See, since we moved out to Apple Jack Creek, we have been using a high-technology solar powered clothes dryer, and have experimented with a number of different strategies for optimizing the whole drying-of-laundry-chore. Hang the socks next to each other, to save time later ... put all the t-shirts on the same part of the rack, so you can pile them as you fold ... take down one person's stuff at a time, so that the finished pile of folded laundry is organized for delivery to the different rooms ...

Anyway, we are always looking for new ideas, and so we want to compare our experience with yours: whether you use electricity, natural gas, or solar power to dry your clothes.

So, without further ado, here are the details of the Great Laundry Race of 2009:

Eligible participants:

  • anyone who does laundry, by any method!

How to participate:

  • Wash your laundry the way you normally do. This race pertains just to the drying cycle. :)

  • Time yourself from the moment you open the washing machine and remove the clean, wet clothes until you get them to the place where they will finish drying. If you use a dryer, this is the time it takes to get clothes from
    washer to dryer; if you hang the clothes to dry, this is the time it takes to get everything set up in whatever drying arrangement you use.

  • You are timing only the effort of the human being - so if the clothes stay on the line for half a day or are in the machine for an hour, that part doesn't count.

  • Once the clothes are dry, start timing again: time from the moment you begin processing the clean clothes (i.e. removing them from the dryer or taking them off the line), until you have them all folded and ready to be put away (however you do that).

Recording your results:

  • Add a comment to this blog entry, giving as much information as you can including….

  • The size of the load you are timing with, as that will definitely affect the results. As a baseline, you can compare to our average size load: with our small front load washer, that'd be about four to six pair of socks, a pair of jeans, three or four grownup shirts, three or four kid size shirts, assorted underwear, and probably a sweatshirt.

  • Tell us your method of drying: what equipment you use, if you have a particular strategy for efficiency (e.g. "I hang all the socks together on the line so I save time matching them later"), and any other relevant details. Enquiring minds want to know how you do what you do! :) And, if you alternate between methods, by all means, run a comparison and share your findings!

  • Last but not least, tell us how much time your method requires.
    If you can average a few loads of wash, that'd be truly awesome.

And the prize!

  • Yes, we have a prize! Everyone is a winner when the laundry is done, but we have a prize for participating in our great Laundry Race. :)
    All participants in the Great Laundry Race of 2009 (i.e. those who comment on the blog with their timed results before midnight August 15, 2009) will be entered in a draw for a sample size tin of Apple Jack Creek's Calendula and Mullein Ointment. This stuff is good for all sorts of cuts and scrapes and bruises, and is made with nothing but flowers (grown right here), beeswax (grown in Alberta), and olive oil (from a local grocery store!).
    It's not much, I know, but it's one of the few things I have to give away that will survive mailing. :)

So, get your stopwatches ready, find your dirty clothes, and let's see how much time we're spending on the dry cycle!

19 July 2009

Progress, frustrations, and knitting

There's always a long list of things to do when you live on a farm, even a small one, and so it's really easy to make some kind of progress. Pick any of the jobs on the lengthy list and voila, you are further ahead than you were yesterday!

Last weekend, everyone in the whole family was away except me, through an odd combination of circumstances. I slept in, ate what I wanted when I felt hungry, and got a whole lot of productive work done without really feeling worn out at the end! I wandered outside Saturday morning to see which job I felt like doing, and I decided to start on the fenceline feeder for the sheep. The Boy has requested a change in feeding strategy, and since he does most of the feeding, it seems reasonable that he should get the infrastructure he wants. So, I took down the boundary fence from the piece of winter pasture that will become the feeder and cut and attached the hog panels to the posts. We'll add sheets of plywood on an angle along the back, and that'll hold the hay for the sheep to eat: they stick their noses through the hog panels, but can't get their whole heads through (we hope). A test run late in the spring looked promising, so here's hoping.

Once I got that done, I realized that the winter pasture desperately needed to be cleared out, so I fired up the bobcat and practiced my digging and shovelling maneouvers. I'm no bobcat artist, but working on flat ground I did have a lot of opportunity to try different things, and managed to improve my skills a little, while making a big pile of compost-to-be.

The next question, obviously, was what to do with the pile I had just made.

I had read the Maple Corners blog that morning, and saw Annie's "Wall of Junk" - the very creatively decorated fence that hides her compost pile. Inspired, I put up some fence posts and cross boards, and made a mental note to be on the lookout for cool 'junk' to decorate it with! A bit more bobcat work and I had the existing compost pile moved into the new bin, and room for another bin. Sunday saw the creation of the second bin, and the compost-to-be from the winter pasture put into it's proper cooking spot. Monday night I actually saw the pile steaming again, which is really encouraging ... and it's shrinking, so it's defintely doing what it oughta do.

The two new compost bins are along the north border of the property, where we really do need a perimiter fence. This weekend, I started extending that fence with more posts and boards - it doesn't have to be absolutely sheep-proof, just sheep-resistant, so that we can turn them out into the area we euphemistically refer to as a 'lawn' on occasion to keep it mowed. Twelve posts later (put in all by myself - The Reluctant Farmer was busy doing other much-needed jobs like sealing the windows so they don't leak in the rain, and working on siding the house), we have a perimiter fence along most of the north border to the yard. The sheep were out there on Saturday and did make a dent in the grass, but since it's not properly fenced off everywhere, we had to chase them back in a few times and now they're safely behind proper fences and gates.

All this work doesn't come without frustrations ... the fence boards aren't level and have to be taken down and put back up ... the sheep get out and have to be chased back ... the sheep knock down one of the fence boards that is only up with temporary nails, until I can check that it is level ... a thunderstorm arrives while the sheep are all wandering around and I have to chase them back into a proper pasture while getting drenches ... I manage to give myself a nasty bruise while deconstructing a shade house to use as a trellis ... but all in all, it was still a productive couple of weekends.

Knitting continues: the vest I am working on is turning out very nicely, if I do say so myself, and I have been working on it diligently. Now I have to figure out what it needs for a collar.

I think I'll go knit some more.

14 July 2009

The first purebred Icelandic lambs have arrived

Natalie *finally* delivered her twin lambs today! The Boy was keeping an eye out for a delivery, as we knew it had to be fairly soon, and he was right there, ready to help if need be. Nat was pretty tired by the time the second twin arrived, but she managed without assistance ... still, it's really reassuring to know that we have a skilled shepherd on hand just in case. What a kid we have! :)

These are the first purebred Icelandic lambs born on our farm: Natalie miscarried her fall pregnancy some time during the winter, possibly due to toxoplasmosis exposure, and was rebred by our new Icelandic ram lamb just after he arrived in mid February. Today, the lambs arrived at long last!

Two lovely ram lambs, a solid black one and a solid white one, with perfect little Icelandic faces and short little Icelandic tails and curly soft Icelandic fleece are walking around the pasture with their mama - one of them was even nibbling on grass and he's not eight hours old. :)

So, that should be it for lambing for this year - we had a couple of ewes who didn't settle at all ... and with the new breeding ewes coming to us from Flannelberry Farm later this year, we are reorganizing the flock a little. We love the Icelandics - they are the perfect sheep for our management style and our weather, so we'll be phasing out most (but not all) of the Columbia/Hampshires. It's always a tough decision, choosing who goes off to freezer camp, but for the good of the flock, it's a decision that has to be made.

The Boy and I will have some more conversations about our choices, but I think we're pretty much in agreement. There are a few who have "won the immunity challenge" and get to retire here ... Cherub the annoying but sweet former bottle baby, and Jack, the superb Southdown ram (who fathers excellent sturdy crossbred lambs, with that sumo sheep build of his, so he earns his keep). The rest, though, have to earn their place ... either in the pasture or on the plate!

09 July 2009

Really cool birthday stuff

Boy, did I get really cool birthday stuff this year. :)

Dinosaur Boy and Princess Girl each picked out a package of brightly dyed wool top at the local fibre store - hers was shades of pink (of course) and his was ocean blues. Spun up and plyed together they make the lovliest bright yarn imaginable! I think it wants to be a purse or a bag of some kind. I'm still talking to it.

My wonderful husband picked out a stunning package of purple silk and merino fibre that definitely wants to be spun up into something light and then knitted into something drapey ... that's awaiting further inspiration. There's also a gift card to spend at the same fibre shop for ... whatever. Hmmmm ... an excuse to go fibre shopping!

The Boy and my parents got together and hunted down a new 5 gallon pickle crock for me - I have a lovely one inherited from my mom, actually, which got broken this winter (it doubles as a Christmas tree stand, and, well, it didn't quite survive the experience intact). Mom and Dad found it at an antique shop, and it's exactly like the other one - same maker, even! That was a great present! Pickles are on the agenda for fall, that's for sure.

The Boy also ordered one of the books from my wish list - the Encyclopedia of Country Living, by Carla Emery ... which looks utterly fascinating. It's got *everything* in there!

Oh, and my sister and her husband sent me a book from England: it got here awhile back and I couldn't wait to open it, so I already read it and enjoyed it thoroughly.

What a great birthday! Thanks, everyone!

05 July 2009

Independence Days Update

As always, the update on how things are going at our house. With the poor weather this year (cold, then hot and dry, then frost even late in June, then dry …) it’s been a lackluster gardening year. I’m trying to keep my eye on the long term, though – all the work I’ve done out there this year to build new beds, kill off the grass (oh, that’s a big job) and shape the garden into what it needs to be will pay off next year and in the years after … even if we don’t have a lot of tomatoes this year (or, indeed, any) we’ll at least be several steps ahead for NEXT year!

So, focusing on the accomplishments…

Planted: Today I planted more lettuce, beets, and some pepper plants that may or may not survive the transplant procedure. I also relocated some volunteer calendula to the herb bed (since nothing else I planted there grew, there was room!)

Harvested: Lettuce and radishes for salads, one stray nettle plant to dry for tea, and one calendula plant that didn’t really make the transfer cleanly, so it can be dried too. The Boy has been out scouting for saskatoons and raspberries, but none have shown up yet.

Preserved: Hmm, can’t think of anything to put in this category this time.

Waste Not: The usual – scraps fed to some animal or other, eating leftovers for lunches, that kind of thing. Nothing really stands out. Oh, I did discover that everyone likes apple upside down cake … and that’s a great way to use up some almost-gone apples. Makes a good breakfast, too!

Want Not (Preparations): We’ll consider all the work to build the garden part of preparations … it may not pay off this year, but it will pay of in coming years! Not much else happening on this front beyond regular maintenance (we have improved the fences, and that definitely counts) and debt reduction.

Community Food Systems: Noticed an ad for a butcher that’s taking lamb at a nearby community … and we’ve heard good things about their services, too, so we will see if that’s workable for us. Soon we’ll have lambs ready to become dinner!

Eat the Food: Some of the rhubarb sauce I cooked up recently became the sauce for a rhubarb upside down cake today, and we’ve been eating salads from the garden.

01 July 2009

So, what is this skinless sheepskin rug, anyway?

I’ve mentioned the ‘skinless sheepskin rug’ project a few times, and now that it is complete, I can give you a full explanation - with pictures, even! Here is the finished product, on display at the Natural Fibres Competition at Fibre Week:
The objective was to make something that looked like a sheepskin rug without needing a tanner’s skills (or a dead sheep, for that matter). The secondary objective was to create something that could be entered in the Natural Fibres competition at Fibre Week, which meant all the materials had to be completely natural. I might have used a synthetic warp, for strength, but in keeping with the natural fibre theme, I used some cotton warp set fairly wide apart. The backing fabric used a double strand of thin wool rovings from Custom Woolen Mills, as I knew from past experience that those would felt into a nice solid fabric base after washing. Last but not least, fistfuls of raw fleece were pulled from the bags of wool that are currently blocking access to the rest of my fibre room. :)

The basic strategy is very straightforward: weave about an inch of plain weave with the thin wool, beating it well so it’ll make a solid base fabric. Then the fun begins: pull out locks of wool about as big around as your thumb from the pile of raw fleece, and wrap each lock around every third warp thread in such a way that they tuft up, much the same way thrums are made on mittens.

Choose locks of approximately equal size and look for ones that are fairly clean – dirt is okay as it’ll dissolve in the wash, but hay and straw will just felt in place, so it’s a good idea to pick those out as you go. When the row of fleece is finished, beat it down and continue with the plain weave for another inch, then repeat the tufting process, offset by one warp thread. The offset helps to distribute the locks more evenly across the surface of the fabric, it breaks up the columns you’d get otherwise.
The back of the fabric looks really interesting, you can see where each lock is looped around the warp threads.

When the whole thing is as long as it needs to be, the warp is cut, the ends knotted, and the whole thing gets thrown in the wash on warm/cold with a generous dose of laundry soap to clean the wool. It’s a long wash cycle, waiting to see if it turns out or becomes a solid felted lump of useless fibre … which is why I had done two test swatches first, just to be on the safe side. Front load washers do not give you the option to stop midcycle and peek! :)

The finished rug is not quite as dense as it was before washing, so it’s a good idea to err on the side of fleece overdose if you want a good thick mat when you’re finished. The completed piece would make a great floor rug for beside the bed (imagine sinking your cold toes into that first thing in the morning!), or a chair cover (I put it on the driver’s seat for the ride home from Olds, and wow, is it ever comfortable!), and would be ideal for a person suffering from bedsores or confined to a wheelchair (in fact, real and synthetic sheep skins are often used in those situations – washable real wool might be a welcome alternative for some).

Another use would be as a saddlepad for a rider who doesn’t use a close-contact saddle and has a bony horse: wool is the ideal material for a saddle blanket as it absorbs moisture and won’t chafe against the skin. This particular style would provide plenty of cushioning between saddle and horse, and reduce friction significantly: the wool locks will move against the horse’s body and the top of the blanket will move with the saddle.

I’m very pleased with the finished product, and have definite plans to make more. I’ve got a few horse people interested in serving as product testers, so I think I’d better get some more warp done up and get started on another one!