Friday, August 23, 2019

New chicks

My flock is down to eight adult hens, and some of them are a few years old, so it was time to get new chicks. The Buff Orpington had already been broody for a while when some fun breeds arrived at the local feed store, so it was perfect timing. It was my first time having a broody hen raise chicks instead of doing it with a heat lamp. Definitely way easier, though the downside is that they are less comfortable with me. I got a Rhode Island Red, Ancona, Gold Speckled Hamburg, Silver Speckled Hamburg, and Blue Hamburg. They're four months old now, so they should start laying in another month or two.

Ancona, less than 1 week old

Blue Hamburg, less than 1 week old

Gold Speckled Hamburg, less than 1 week old

Silver Speckled Hamburg, less than 1 week old

Rhode Island Red, less than 1 week old

Less than 1 week old

Less than 1 week old

About 1 week old
2 weeks old

5 weeks old

6 weeks old

6 weeks old

Blue Hamburg, 4 months old

4 months old

Ancona, 4 months old

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Fruit jams

A few months back I stopped by Berkeley Bowl West while I was in the area, and bought a ton of strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries in their discount produce section. Time for my first attempts at water bath canning! I used recipes from the book Naturally Sweet Food in Jars and they all came out delicious.

Washed blueberries
Blueberries in syrup
Smushed up raspberries
Raspberry jam
Strawberry jam
Raspberry jam and homemade yogurt
I plan to use some of the jams in baking, but so far I've been eating them with yogurt. It makes a great sweet treat when it's hot out, filling the same niche as ice cream.

Crafting updates

I made the Radiata shawl as a surprise gift for my grandmother, who used to constantly knit sweaters and scarves for the family. She had to stop due to arthritis.

As a silly project for myself, I made an amigurumi globe:

I finished spinning up and chain plying a merino/silk braid from Greenwood Fiberworks. This was my first chain plying project. It's not totally even but it's worth it to preserve the color changes of the original braid. The yarn came out about fingering weight and 290 yards.
I have a couple of big projects on the needles that will take a long time to finish (a fingering weight sweater and a double knit scarf). So I haven't done nearly as much crafting so far in 2019 as usual. (I've also been spending more of my free time reading.)

Friday, February 22, 2019

Chicken adventures

The girls took about six weeks off from laying eggs, but are quickly ramping up production now.

I let them out of their pen to forage in the yard recently. Maybe they'll help with the weeds if I do it more often.
A hawk managed to kill two of them (one of the Black Japanese and the Speckled Sussex) while inside their pen. Fortunately the chickens then learned to take cover when they saw/heard birds overhead. One time I heard a flock of crows making a ruckus nearby and looked over to see the chickens had run against the fence line to take cover.
I bought two Hen Saver aprons to protect the Black Sex Link and the Easter Egger, whose backs and wings had gotten shredded from the roosters. They look great for the first few minutes, but they don't actually stay in place very well.
The old rooster got sick enough that I was finally given permission from the landlord to put him out of his misery. The Black Australorp rooster has taken his place, and is keeping the Blue Cochin from mating with the girls whenever he sees him starting up. However from what I've seen, the Australorp is pretty hard on them all on his own. The girls used to sometimes crouch for the old man. This guy does a sneak attack, grabbing the feathers on their necks/heads and crushing them down to the ground. He's twice as large as the hens, even the female Australorp.

So far it seems okay - between having one less rooster, the sort of helpful aprons, and now molting season, the girls are looking much better. We'll see if they continue to look okay later in spring. If needed I'll dispatch one of the two remaining roosters, too.

Monday, February 11, 2019

New red rex buck

Last week I dispatched my first buck and brought home a new one, since I needed new genetics for the next generation of does. I found a local breeder selling rex kits of all different colors. It was so difficult to choose one! I had planned on bringing home a red one, as I have been exceptionally fond of the red kit in the current litter. I had also considered a lilac, to bring brown and dilute color genes into my rabbitry. The breeder also had a few torts and an opal (dilute). In the end I went with a red after all, choosing the larger and darker one of the two reds.

Picture from Craig's List ad
Meeting him in person
Getting used to his new home
The buck was calm the entire time we hung out together, even when I held him. He was curious of his new surroundings when I put him in his pen, but scared of me the next time I came by. I'm sure it's just a matter of time before he's mellow again.

I told the breeder that I would likely be back for some more rex rabbits in the future. For now I plan to breed him to my keeper female kits from the current litter, and their babies will all have one rex gene.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Working and softening rabbit hides

I've been using this rabbit "stake" to soften the hides from the kits we dispatched in December, plus a backlog of stiff, dried hides from whole rabbits I'd purchased some years back.

I had heard that some people work their hides over the back of a chair but I wasn't having any luck with that, and doing it with my fingers (as the person who taught me about processing rabbits does) was a nightmare. Chase discovered this tool in a book. I was surprised, as I'd already read a lot about working hides online and had never come across this.

It was a revelation. The pointed edge is much more effective at scraping and stretching than anything I'd tried before. I can sit comfortably in a chair with my thighs over the base to keep it steady, and use minimal arm movement.

Now that I finally have an effective tool, I'm learning more about the proper dampness of the hide to soften it permanently. I'd definitely been working with the hides too wet when I first tried a few years ago - I would stretch them and then they would stiffen completely as they finished drying. Lately I've been erring on the other side with too dry. I've been using a squirt bottle and damp towels to soften just the hide and not the fur itself, and experimenting with various degrees of dampness. I'm doing one at a time instead of a big batch.

Here's a hide that dried out soon after I started working on it:
Here's the same hide a few days later, after I'd re-moistened it and was able to work it thoroughly:
24 hours later it had still stiffened a bit more more than I expected, but is still suitable for my primary goal (dog toys).

So far I've done seven and only one has come close to perfect. I'm guessing it will take 30 or so to really get this down.

Sewing 101: Self-lined drawstring pouch tutorial

I whipped up these four self-lined drawstring pouches the day before leaving for my Christmas vacation. I filled them with homemade cookies and gave them as presents. They were a hit!

They were so fun and versatile that I decided to put together a tutorial for making your own. It took me two hours to make these four, so about thirty minutes each. It's a perfect beginner project. Lots of pictures included to help! Click on any picture to see it pop up in a bigger size.

What you will need:
  • Paper, pencil/pen, and scissors to draw and cut out your template.
  • Fabric (large enough for you to hold in half and cut out template twice).
  • Sewing machine, thread, fabric scissors.
  • String or yarn.
  • Tapestry needle (for pulling yarn through bag).

First draw up a template for how you want the pouch to look. It should have a straight line at the top (where it will open). I wanted mine to be fishbowl shaped, like a classic old-timey pouch. You can make your pouch rectangular or square or longer or shorter. It needs to be wide enough that the opening of the bag (double the length of your straight line) will be able to fit around the base of your sewing machine so that you can sew parallel to that edge.

Sketch your pattern out on paper, and fold the paper in half vertically as you cut it out, to ensure that it will be symmetrical.
Lay out your fabric so that it is folded in half where the straight line at the top is. Cut out TWO of these. (I recommend ironing your fabric after you fold it, before cutting. Go ahead and iron over the crease, as it will be helpful later.)
This is what I've cut out (second one not shown). You need two since the pouch will have two sides.
Unfold it at the top. For each side of the pouch, one half of this shape will be on the outside and the other half will be the inside lining.
Lay the two parts you've cut out together, with the pretty side of the fabric hidden between.
You're about to sew the two parts together all the way around, EXCEPT where I've indicated between my index finger and thumb. You'll want this section to be about 2-2.5 inches. This will be where you flip the pouch inside out so that the pretty side of the fabric is showing. It will also be the hole through which the string comes out, so this hole MUST start just below that horizontal crease in the fabric where it was previously folded.
Start sewing at the bottom part of where the hole will be, and go all the way around until you get to the top of the hole.
Ta-da! (I ironed the fabric after sewing so that it would look nicer for the picture. This isn't necessary for this project, but if you move on to sewing clothes or other fancy things, you'll want to get in the habit of ironing over all of your seams to help the thread settle in and help everything stay even.)
Now go to that hole and open it up.
Gently start pushing the fabric from the inside of the pouch through the hole, to turn it inside out.
Almost all the way inside out...
Done flipping inside out! It won't look very nice at this point.
Use your fingers, a capped pen, or other blunt narrow object to push against the seam from the inside, and even everything out.
Looking much better after pushing the seams out.
Now here's where the magic happens - flipping it so that it will have its final pouch shape! Hold your fabric so that the hole is toward you, on the bottom half of the pouch. Pull the left and right sides of the fabric apart, so there's space on the inside.
Begin stuffing the top half down into that space.
Now it's self-lined!
And it has our final desired shape!
Iron the pouch so the fabric lies nice and flat, and the top is creased instead of balloon-y.
Go back to where the hole is. You're going to sew the hole up by going along the very edge of the fabric, except for a small section at the very top (where the string will be going into the bag).
I was in a hurry and used white thread here, but if you use thread that matches your fabric color, this seam won't be very noticeable on the final product. I left about a 1/2" hole for my string at the top.
Turn the pouch so that it wraps around the base of your machine, and sew a line ALL the way around, about 1/2" from the top (or however long your remaining hole is). This is the casing for your string - it will keep the string at the top of the bag as its opened and closed repeatedly.
Again I used white, but a matching thread would have blended in.
Cut a generous piece of string or yarn and thread it through a tapestry needle.
Insert the needle through that last small hole, and pull the yarn all the way through the casing.
It's done! You have a self-lined drawstring pouch!
Filled with goodies!