Thursday, December 3, 2009

Shorn Sheep

Urban farming in the winter is a bit of a joke. Beyond tidying the garden up and getting the lawn furniture and tools tucked away, there isn't that much to do. We've dug the pea and bean stems into the soil, emptied the heavier containers into a heap near the compost bin and put the lighter containers, soil in, into the shed.

We rake our leaves onto the beds, both ornamental and veggie for two reasons. One to keep the frost heaving down (I think this is more wishful thinking than anything) and because none of our neighbours rake we inherit all their leaves over the winter and I have to do it all again anyways. This is a spring job for us.

Time to turn to the sheep. Nope, I don't have a little sheep, or “bap” as Phoebe used to call them, roaming around the garden. It would be neat though to have a mini sheep with a bell on, waltzing around the neighbour's yards, seeing as how most of them see gardens as a place to hide beer bottles. This is why I think I can get a bee hive and no one will notice and I wouldn't be surprised to find out that chickens would go unnoticed for a long time also.

But to the sheep. For the past two springs I have purchased a fleece from local shepherd Marilyn Rand's farm, Lambs Run Farm in Canning, Nova Scotia. The first fleece was a warm grey brown (or taupe for those of you who insist) and while I detest the colour, I love the end product.

When I first bought this, I was terrified of the processing I faced. I was afraid I would felt the fleece, not wash it enough, wash it too much or never get around to spinning it. Spinning it would be a real challenge, since I had no idea how to spin. Yet, buying a fleece seemed like a cool thing to do.

This spring I bought another fleece, last year's having worked out so well. It is a light oatmeal kind of colour unspun but once it is spun, it will likely go lighter and turn into more of an eggshell colour.

The fleece has gone through it's first bath. Yummy looking water, huh? The water temperature is as hot as it can be coming out of a tap, and it has to soak for 20 minutes, first in the one bath, then after sort of draining it, for a further 20 minutes in the second bath.

The fleece is in its final bath, which contains vinegar. This helps to cut the remaining grease. It doesn't harm the lanolin.

The fleece is sopping wet so it can't dry in a big heap. The centre would start to smell probably horrible things would happen. I've tried to spread it out around the basement on things that air can circulate around. You can't see it, but there is another amount drying that is double that in the photo.

I think this process of buying, washing and eventually spinning and knitting a local sheperd's fleece is keeping in the spirit of urban farming. It keeps me connected to the parts of farming I can't do in the city, such as keeping livestock, the left over fleece is used to stuff small toys I knit for my mom's charity,

and the spinning keeps me connected to a craft that is gadzillion of years old. Wait till you see my spinning wheel!

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