Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Goat Shearing and Spinning

   It's that time of year again. I've starting spinning again.  I find its almost like meditation when I'm listening to something. Besides,  I like to have my hands busy.  I usually don't spin very much in the summer as I am too busy trying to keep up with the vegetable garden. After taking the spring and summer off from spinning Miss Buzz Saw acts like the wheel is a brand new cat toy.  It is much more of a challenge to try to spin while the cat is playing with the wheel and slowing it down. I've had to throw her outside a few times so I could spin in peace.

    Linda and the grandkids sheared the goats on Saturday.  I'm going to try and get the fiber from this shearing and the previous shearings washed and carded in the next few weeks. I'm planning to card it together with some wool so it will be suitable sweater yarn. Wool has better "memory" than most other fibers so it can be blocked to a particular shape. Hence it works better in a sweater or socks than something like alpaca.  However, blending two different fibers together can give you the best of both worlds. Then I can have the memory of wool and the softness of our little pygora goats.  I'm sure some of the grandkids would enjoy having a sweater from one of their favorite goats.  Since Buster is white it will be pretty easy to find some relatively white wool to blend with his fleece.  Blackjack presents more of a problem. I either have to buy some charcoal grey fleece or dye some  of my current wool stash to match his fleece. There is also the third option of blending his dark gray fleece with white wool. I've got enough of his fleece saved up where I might try multiple options.
Not quite a crew cut, but hopefully short enough to help Buster's eczema.

   I hate to shear the goats this late in the season but they really do need shearing twice a year. If we let them go the entire year, much of their fleece felts up and goes to waste. Also Buster develops a nasty skin condition if he isn't sheared twice a year. A goat with serious eczema is a pretty pathetic sight. Consequently we have to shear them both late in the fall and early in the spring.  That still gives them a little time to grow a bit more of a winter coat before it gets seriously cold while the spring shearing happens after the worst of the winter is past. The twice a year shearing results in a shorter length for spinning but I was planning to blend their fleeces with wool anyhow.

     I have a pretty good supply of raw wool, thanks to another bee store friend. This fellow shears sheep for people who often don't want the wool. I'm not sure what the motivation is for someone to have sheep who has no use for the wool. If they were just interested in eating lamb once in a while there are specific breeds of sheep that are designated as meat breeds. As one would expect, the meat breeds have a meatier carcass. As a general rule, the wool from the meat breeds is also less attractive to hand spinners.  This summer my friend gave me three big garbage bags of Border Leicester fleece, definitely not a meat breed.  For those unfamiliar with the more common breeds of sheep, I believe Farmer Hogget's flock in the movie "Babe" were Border Leicester sheep (pronounced like the name Lester).

     There is a fair amount of labor that happens to turn a raw fleece into spinnable wool. There is an amazing amount of lanolin and dirt that accumulates in the fleece which produces a fairly strong odor. It doesn't turn from dirty, nasty, smelly into soft,clean and fluffy all on its own.  A certain amount of caution is required in "scouring", the technical term for washing a raw fleece. Temperature changes plus agitation can cause the wool fibers to felt together. Some wools are more inclined to felt than others. I always try to wash the fleeces by hand with a minimum of agitation and use cold water to avoid temperature changes.  Basically, I let the fleece sit over night in five gallon buckets of cold soapy water.  I remove the fleece the next day and transfer it to five gallon buckets of cold clean rinse water.  I repeat the rinse cycle until the water is relatively clean. I say relatively clean because the water from the first few rinses are Mississippi River brown. If I can see the bottom of the bucket I consider the rinse water to be pretty clean

    After the fleece has been scoured and has dried it still needs to be carded before it can be spun into wool. I have a pair of hand cards as well as a drum carder. The drum carder is faster but is located in the garage. The hand carders are slower but can be used upstairs while watching a football game.  It should therefore come as no surprise that I use the hand carders more often than the drum carder.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Applying gel coat to my boat

     Yesterday, after months of sanding and other prep work, I finally applied the first coat of bright yellow gel coat to my row boat.  It was definitely a learning experience.  First of all I learned that the roller worked much better than the brush.  It went on both faster and smoother with the roller.  I had to buy a natural fiber roller as chemicals in the gel coat will dissolve rollers made of foam. The roller puts on a much thinner coat so it will take more coats to get the thickness I want. However, I think I will be much happier with the results. The second thing I learned was that I only have time to apply a half pint of gel coat before it sets up in the container.  I now have a bright yellow gel coat paper weight left from the half pint I didn't get applied in time.  Just like fiberglass resin, a catalyst is added to the gel coat which causes it to set up. It doesn't dry like paint. I had mixed up a pint because I was expecting to put on a thicker coat than I ended up doing.  I also expected to have a little more working time as the temperature in the shop was at the lower end of the recommended range. The cooler the temperature, the longer the working time. The good news is that a half pint is sufficient for one coat on the entire exterior of the boat. Gel coat is pretty expensive so I'm hoping not to waste any more than that half pint left over from my first effort. After I finish with the row boat I have a couple of kayaks that also need new gel coat.
Did I say it was bright yellow?

It still needs a few more coats so the color will be more even.

      My preparations for the new gel coat consisted of first removing all of the wood trim work. It was in bad shape and needed to be replaced any how. Secondly, I had to sand the boat to remove all of the old white gel coat which had oxidized, collected a layer of algae, and had numerous scratches and dings. It was in very sad shape. The most difficult part of the sanding was removing the name of the boat from its prior life,   "Dalliance". That was probably the name of the larger boat for which it had served as the tender or dingy.  The boat's new name will be the "Linda Joye". Linda is anything but a dalliance in my life so I didn't want the old name showing through the new gel coat. The painted name had protected the gel coat underneath it so it had to be sanded flat to match the rest of the surface. Lastly, I had to use bondo to fill in any cracks and gouges and sand it yet again to make for a nice smooth surface.

     As gel coat cures it produces some fairly noxious fumes, so appropriate lung protection is in order. I actually have a nice chemical respirator (i.e. gas mask) that is intended for jobs like this. I couldn't smell the fumes at all until I finished the job and took off the mask. Hopefully the fumes will have diminished  significantly by the time I open the bee store this morning. It was very obvious that I can only do gel coat at the end of the day, right after I close the store. That is just as well, as the limited working
time requires about a half hour without any interruptions.

    The boat has been taking up space at the bee store's wood shop for the last few months. After the new gel coat is finished, Quentin is going to help me install the new wood trim. That is a pretty complex task as it involves building a steam cabinet in order to bend the white oak trim to match the curve of the boat. I had originally intended to use some of the maple I have drying in the shop in order to replace the wood trim. As we looked into it we learned that white oak (also referred to as "bendy oak") is best suited for this purpose. Most of the old wood trim was installed using copper nails and washers in order to make rivets. I looked at all of the local marine supply places and nobody carried them.  It took a serious internet search but I was finally able to locate a source for the copper nails and washers as well as the specialized tool needed for the job.

     The whole point of restoring the row boat is to be able to use it for taking grand kids fishing.  I have personally developed a serious fishing deficit over the past few years. Rumor has it that a number of my grand kids share that fishing deficit and would like me to take them fishing. Judging from my experience at cousin camp this past summer I think it will take quite a while to fully remedy the situation. Once I have sold the store next summer I plan on spending a lot more time fishing with grand kids. Maybe Linda will also want to take a ride in the boat once in a while.  One nice thing about this row boat is that it is small enough to fit in the back of my old beater cargo van. Also it is light enough that I should be able to get it into and out of the van with only "short help" available.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Official Declaration of Victory

   I've finally declared victory in my efforts to preserve this year's harvest from my grape vines.  The official total for 2013 stands at eleven gallons of grape juice processed with my steamer juicer. If eleven gallons seems like a lot, realize that the juice is somewhat concentrated and we have to dilute it 50:50 with water to get it to where it is drinkable. That actually makes 22 gallons of juice to drink. For those unfamiliar with a steamer juicer I'll include a little tutorial. This is a very handy tool for the home canner and can be used to juice and preserve all kinds of  fruits.
2013's harvest of grape juice

     The steamer juicer consists of four parts. The lower part is filled with water and sits on the burner of the stove. The next section is the reservoir  where the juice collects.  This section has a short outlet tube which has a piece of surgical tubing attached which is kept closed with a small clamp. The next section is the strainer basket which holds the target fruit. The last piece is the lid. This device is the handiest way to process grapes or any other fruit into juice.

This is the first section which holds the water and sits directly on the stove burner.

This is the second section in which the juice collects.

This is the an inside view of the collecting reservoir.
The basket which holds the fruit
Fully loaded steamer juicer

     I have used a steamer juicer to make grape juice for years. The steamer juicer was a gift from my mother. The juicer basket holds about two gallons of grapes which makes one gallon of juice.  This year I only harvested grapes from six grape vines.  I had pruned several vines way back in order to transplant them so they didn't produce grapes this year. I had another grape vine die for unknown reasons.  I think 22 gallons of grapes is a pretty good harvest from six vines. The vine that died was an early Concord variety called "Valiant". I have another Valiant vine but it is only three years old and just produced a few clusters. Consequently, I got no purple grape juice this year, just different shades of pink grape juice.

Our entire 2013 harvest of hardy kiwi.

   I finally harvest some fruit from one of our hardy kiwi vines.  The harvest wasn't bountiful to say the least. Just one little bowl of cherry sized smooth skinned kiwi fruit.  That is a pretty meager harvest when compared with the grape vines. The little hardy kiwi do taste like kiwi and there is no fuzzy skin. We're hoping to have a better harvest from the kiwi next year.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Cats and Heights

    What is it with cats and heights? Our cat, Little Miss Buzz Saw, loves to climb trees and ladders. She occasionally gets into spots where she requires a little assistance.  However, she routinely goes up and down my 14 foot orchard ladder. I suspect birdwatching is her primary motivation.

The cat climbed this particular tree in order to have a better view of a chicken plucking

I'm assuming she climbed the ladder just for the wonderful view.

I'm not sure why the cat chose to climb out onto this skinny little limb.

She loves the ladder even more when I use it to refill the bird feeder.

I had no idea that cloths pins were so fascinating.

One of Miss Buzz Saw's kittens was similarly attracted to heights.