Monday, July 30, 2018

Squishy Mail Sent to Alpaca Herd Owners

Fiber Artist and Spinster Ameda Holmes Sends Handspun Yarn to Epic Alpacas

FARMERSVILLE, TX - Ameda Holmes of AmedaDesigns ( sends thirteen skeins of yarn spun during July to Epic Alpacas. Weighing just over three pounds, and totaling 2,424 yards of 3 ply yarn, this was the result of several processes done by hand in traditional methods.

Ameda received a large box in June from the owners of Epic Alpacas in California ( that contained fiber from three animals in their herd. "Mithrandir","Iron Belle", and "Ceilidh" are all first quality examples of the grey animals that Epic Alpacas have been specializing in breeding.

Before this fiber could be spun into yarn it needed to be prepared.

First it was run through a bench picker to open up the fiber and allow some of the dust and any vegetable matter trapped in the fiber to fall out.

Then it was washed with a mild detergent without any agitation that could cause felting, and laid on racks to dry.

Finally, it was brushed into mats referred to as batts, and then it was ready to spin.

Ameda decided to spin each animal's fiber as an individual yarn and combine them into a 3 ply yarn for the owner's half of this batch of fiber. From July 7 to July 13, she spun 6 bobbins of yarn and had 6 skeins completed that she could show off at a meeting on the 14th.

These skeins totaled 1,224 yards of 3 ply yarn, and weighed 1.47 pounds.

From July 15 to July 27, another seven skeins were spun and plied, resulting in the total of 2,424 yards and 3.18 pounds. What makes this total more extraordinary is the fact that each of the three plies in the finished yarn were individually spun before plying, resulting in a grand total of spinning and plying of 9,696 yards, or 5.51 miles.

Ameda Holmes is an artist and fiber artist currently based near Farmersville, TX. She works in multiple media, as her offerings on eBay ( amply demonstrate.

She started knitting at the age of five, and added skills and experience with many media over the decades. Spinning wasn't added until 1980 (, but her basic intent has always been to create beautiful things every day.

The Epic Alpacas project is just one installment in a year-long project to spin 60 miles of yarn this year. As of this writing she has completed 36 miles of spinning and plying, and will be writing her experiences in an ebook to be entitled "60 Years - 60 Miles - A Spinster's Journey".

Ameda can be contacted by email at, found on Facebook at, and her items can be found for purchase on eBay at (

Sunday, July 22, 2018

How Much To Raise To Eat All Year

I've been working out how much to raise to feed us both fresh and preserved foods for the year. From there, I can work out how much square footage of garden needs to be built, and how much animal housing needs to be created.

Another thing to consider is food storage. We'll need to make sure that most foods won't require cold storage. I have plenty of experience with canning, drying, and pickling of foods. The Gentleman Friend is a champ at smoking meats. 

Part of my research involved old agricultural extension bulletins, and I compiled this list of quantities of foods needed per person over a year.  The original resources were based on a family of four, so I worked the figures to reflect amounts per person. 

Milk – 75 gallons – 5 ounces of cheese counts as 1 quart

Meat / Poultry / Fish -100 lbs broken up as: 40 lbs fresh, 30 lbs cured, 30 lbs canned (5 quarts)

Eggs – 30 dozen

Fats – 60 lbs as butter, bacon, oils

Sugars – 50 lbs (includes 5 lbs honey and 15 lbs molasses)

Vegetables – 300 lbs Tomatoes 2.5 bushels, can 30 to 40 quarts. Green vegetables 60 lbs fresh, 125 lbs stored (includes cabbage) 25 lbs canned (about 10 quarts)

Potatoes – 180 lbs sweet and white potatoes

Fruit and juices – 100 lbs fresh, 20 lbs dried (which is about 5 pounds after drying), 100 lbs canned (50 quarts)

Flour & Cereal – 160 lbs wheat (for bread and cereals)

Dry beans – 15 lbs dry peas & beans

Nuts – 10 lbs – 5 lbs each of peanuts and tree nuts

When I started looking at these numbers, I realized that when broken down to a weekly amount, I was not eating sensibly in far too many categories. 

Here are the numbers:

Milk - Initially, we'll still be purchasing most of our milk and cheese. Our plans do include getting a couple goats. 

Eggs - One of the first additions to our new homestead is going to be several ducks for eggs.

Meat / poultry / fish - We're also going to be raising meat rabbits. I've had experience with angora rabbits, and feel confident that meat rabbits would be a nice addition. Ducks in the poultry category. Our new place is very close to Lake Texoma, so the Gentleman Friend is going to be doing a fair amount of fishing to fill the freezer.

Fats - Yes, we are thinking with either getting some "bacon seeds" or finding hunting area that will let us get some wild bacon and lard. Since goat milk needs a separator to get cream for butter, butter will most likely need to be purchased until the equipment budget can support getting a milk separator. Vegetable shortening and vegetable oil will need to be purchased.

Sugars - We like the thought of raising bees. With the numbers of fruits and vegetables to be grown, having pollinators is necessary. I have grown and processed sorghum for molasses before. It's a fascinating crop with plenty of uses. I will likely grow some sugar beets as a fodder crop for the animals, and I'll put some time in on experimenting with home-processed sugar. I expect we'll still be purchasing most of our sugar for our tea and coffee.

Beans – Broken across several varieties for both eating fresh and drying for storage. 45 plants total. Kentucky Wonder, Pole Lima, Speckled Calico, and Jacob’s Cattle Gold.

Beets – Succession planting for beet greens, baby beets, and beets for storage. 100 plants (or more) Using a beet mixture that has a wide variety of colors, sizes and days to maturity.

Cabbage (and other brassicas) – I like Gonzales Mini Cabbage, but I am also getting a mix packet for other sizes and days to maturity. I will likely have 10 plants. Brussels Sprouts are a treat when roasted with some Italian dressing, or simply garlic with olive oil. I've never had a lot of luck with cauliflower, but broccoli has produced for me in the past.  Turnip, rutabaga & kohlrabi are also good bets. 10 plants each.

Corn - One of my favorites. There are lots of heirloom seed options for both sweet and flour corn. 5 rows each, separated by a couple weeks to avoid random cultivar crosses.

Cucumber – I have experience with Lemon Cucumber, and the Poona Keera variety has some of the same qualities that I particularly enjoy. Both are never bitter, even if heat-stressed. 6 plants.

Eggplant – I’m growing a variety called Turkish Orange. They resemble orange tomatoes on tall, productive plants. 7 plants

Lettuce – I’m using a mixture of leaf lettuces that will be used in succession plantings. Per medical advice, I should be eating a salad a day, so I’ll be growing at least 70 plants.

Melon & Cantaloupe - I’ll be growing 2 plants in each of 4 varieties for 8 plants total. American Melon, Green Nutmeg, Minnesota Midget, and Hale’s Best. The Gentleman Friend is quite enthusiastic about watermelon, so 1 or 2 plants will probably be added.

Okra - I don't particularly care for okra, but the Gentleman Friend enjoys it. At least a couple plants will be in the garden.

Onion – I’ll need to get sets locally – 100 sets. I’ll also plant a packet each of chives and bunching onions.

Pea - 70 to 100 plants in succession planting for both fresh eating and drying.

Peanuts - I've always wanted to try growing peanuts, and the Gentleman Friend enjoys peanut butter. I think 5 plants per person.

Peppers, HOT - This is Texas. I’m just not interested in bell peppers. 5 plants of Chinese 5 Color, 5 plants of Black Hungarian, and 10 plants from the hot pepper mix packet.  Chinese 5 Color & Black Hungarian are both jalapeno-level peppers that have nice color and flavor.

Potatoes –  I am planning on having several plants each sweet and white potato plants.

Radish – I really like radishes. A little butter, some sea salt… Radishes are so quick to grow, I’m not even going to put a number on these. I’m using a mix of colors, sizes, & days to maturity.

Spinach - I’m ordering a mixed packet. Again, I’ll be sowing these in succession for fresh eating and freezing. 180 plants overall.

Squash – I’ll be growing 2 plants each of Butternut, Acorn, Yellow summer squash, and Eightball zucchini. Possibly a Hubbard variety for animal feed.

Swiss Chard – I like a variety called Bright Lights. The different colors are interesting, and the ability to harvest repeatedly from the same plant is great. 20 plants total.

Tomato – I expect to end up with at least two dozen tomato plants. Rio Grande is a small paste tomato that tolerates a fair bit of heat. Aunt Ruby’s German Green and Kellogg’s Breakfast are two of my favorites. Both are great producers with fantastic flavor.

Fruits - We plan to add several fruit trees and vine fruits. Mulberry, grapes, blackberry, peach, plum and cherry are my first choices. Strawberries are a must.

Wheat - I haven't grown grains for home use before, but we've decided to put together a fodder growing system for the ducks and rabbits. Adding a 60 x 120 patch to handle some of this may or may not be possible initially. It may be better to find an organic grower that would be willing to trade for our specialties.

Herbs – Cutting celery is my answer to the difficulty of growing celery in this climate. I’ll have a couple plants of it, and will try to keep one plant in a container so as to keep it growing over winter. The other edible herbs I’ll be growing are dill, oat grass, nasturtium, rosemary, cilantro, mint and several varieties of basil.

I’ll also have several varieties of sunflower, Hopi Red Dye Amaranth, Elcampane, Golden Marguerite, Indigo, Henna, Woad, and Black Hollyhock for use as dye plants.

A multiflora petunia mix and some marigolds will add to the appeal of the front yard, and I’ll be growing three varieties of gourds for crafts. Bushel gourd is used to make storage containers, Luffa gourds can be eaten like a summer squash when young, but the main use is as vegetable sponges / scrubbers. Spinner gourds are tiny bottle-shaped gourds that are useful for a number of crafts.

I'll be having a patch of cotton for fiber use. I have two varieties - Nanking Brown, and Red-Foliated White - that I grew a couple years ago. I have a fair amount of seed, and will see where that gets me.

A number of foods and spices will still need to be purchased or traded for. Black and green tea, coffee, black pepper, salt top the list here. Surprisingly, ginger and turmeric can be grown in pots and are actually quite attractive as houseplants in the winter. 

A Spinster's Genesis

I learned to knit as a young child - I was only five years old when my grandmother put knitting needles in my hand for the first time. I remember sitting on her lap as she showed me how to make the knit and purl stitches. As I made the first clothes for a doll, I learned the very basics of knitting. (See my YouTube that covers this: )

The way my grandmother taught me was probably the best way to learn. Since I already knew that she was able to turn our an astonishing amount of knitting for all the family, I had the utmost confidence that knitting couldn't be hard. I'd knit for a while, and I'd go out to play in the fields and barns of my grandfather's dairy farm. When I returned, my errors in knitting would be (magically) repaired. Grandma would then take me on her lap and show me again how to do the stitches that I'd messed up.

I also learned the basics of modifying a knit pattern to suit the eventual recipient. Longer sleeves, larger or smaller, adding pockets if wanted, and any number of other changes to the knit pattern. It was only a very small step from that to coming up with my own knit patterns, or knitting without a written pattern at all. 

Some of my projects have been repeated so many times that written reminders are superfluous. My favorite slippers are a perfect example of this. ( )  It also helps that they are so simple that it is easy to memorize.

Most of my knitting was done with inexpensive acrylic and cotton yarns until I was an adult. While I was aware that natural fiber yarns had qualities that were valuable, I thought that the expense made using them unnecessary. In 1980, I got a chilly lesson in how wrong I was. 

Mount Washington in New England is not a very large mountain. It is barely 6,000 feet in altitude, but there is nothing higher on the eastern seaboard. Consequently, the weather at the top can be extreme. 

Memorial Day weekend the temperature in the town at the base of the mountain was in the mid 70s, but it was much colder at the top, with a stiff wind chill. I was wearing a sweater that I had knitted with acrylic yarn, and my companion was wearing a sweater that I had knitted from wool yarn. I nearly froze in the acrylic, and my companion was fine in the wool sweater.

I decided that I was going to use natural fiber yarns from that moment on. 

There was a local yarn shop in the town, and I persuaded my companion to stop there. I got a major shock at the cost of commercial natural fiber yarn. One skein cost more than three times my hourly wage at the time. I realized that a sweater from this lovely expensive yarn would cost more than a week's wage. 

Fortunately, the yarn shop owner has a solution for me. She owned sheep and had baskets and baskets of clean wool for sale. She gave me a short lesson on spinning with a spindle, sold me a spindle, a big bag of lovely brown wool, and I was suddenly off on this adventure of making my own yarn. 

This was well before we had the resources of the internet, Google, and YouTube. I haunted my local library, got everything I could on inter-library loan, found other spinners and guilds, and did everything I could to teach myself.

Spindle spinning is not the quickest method of hand spinning. It can add up if you can get bits of otherwise wasted time used in getting some spinning done. Lunch breaks at work, waiting at appointments, while someone else drives, etc.. Those bits were what I normally used for knitting, so I decided that I needed to learn to spin on a spinning wheel. 

I found a used spinning wheel and worked on getting my hands and feet coordinated. It didn't take very long, and I was soon piling up skeins of hand spun yarns.

Then I discovered that I could knit in an hour what it had taken me two or more hours to spin. My used spinning wheel was fairly slow, and I didn't have any spare bobbins for it. I had to wind off what I'd spun onto some rather creative holders so I could then ply the single strands together. 

Eventually, I was able to get a much faster wheel made for me. Repetitive motion injury to my wrists started interfering with knitting, but not spinning. My stash of hand spun yarns got rather extensive, so I added weaving to my creative pursuits. 

My interest in American history grew as I learned more about natural dyes, weaving patterns, sheep breeds used in the the early United States, and the impact of cotton. I started to find references on how much yarn could be expected from one spinner per day - and also the reason why the gender-specific term "spinster" also came to mean an older, unmarried woman.