Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Holy Sheep, Part 2: From Fleece to Yarn

I apologize for the break in posting, I know you're all waiting with bated breath to hear about how wool is processed on a large scale. Things around here are picking up a bit, so I'll try to be better, but I can't promise anything.

Onto the wool.

When my friends Jill, Jaja, and I visited the wool mill, I didn't actually think I would be interested in the wool processing equipment. But I ended up spending a large amount of time taking pictures of it and learning how the wool goes from sheep to yarn. (I took the pictures of two different machines, each with different colors of yarn, so don't get confused. One is white and one is brown).

After the wool has been washed and picked (or "teased") to get most of the vegetable matter out, they fluff it a little bit by hand and dump it all into the "hopper."

The hopper catches small bits of wool and pulls it up into the rest of the machine, which consists of several large cylindrical drums with pins attached to them.

The drums pull the yarn and straighten the fibers out until they are all aligned, and the wool is a continuous sheet of parallel fibers, each fiber pulling on the ones behind it.

It works kind of the way water flows up a plant (oh my, sorry, plant nerd alert), with each molecule pulling on the one behind it to make a continuous column. In this case, it's a very thin sheet of wool, which has been made entirely uniform by all of the pins pulling the fibers apart.

From here, the thin layers of wool can be stacked and cut up to make batting. Before it's cut, the batting looks like this:

If the wool is meant for yarn, the thin sheet is gathered into a fluffy rope, which is called roving.

Lots of people buy roving and spin the yarn themselves (which I'm learning to do at the Craft Center, a post to come!). The roving is fed into large cylindrical containers, and it looks really really cool.

From these containers, it is fed into the spinning machine, which can be set to spin different types of yarn.

They spin the yarn onto bobbins, and there is another machine that takes the yarn off the bobbins and spreads it out so it can be made into skeins, which is the final form in which the yarn is sold to the public.

Here's a video of that last machine:

Of course, there was one machine from the 1920s which would do the entire process, from fleece to yarn, but it wasn't working. The first picture in this post shows one part of that massive machine. It was so huge that they had to assemble it and build the barn around it.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Holy Sheep, Part 1

Today I went to the Yolo Wool Mill's open house, out in the middle of the farmland between Davis and Woodland, California. I really can't express my excitement to you over the internet, but I trust the pictures will do the job for me.

There were people there selling wool and roving, and we got a tour of the mill, where we learned how the wool is processed, and got to see the old machinery they use to do it (one machine was made in the 1920s). I was fascinated by the wool processing, so I'm going to save those pictures and devote an entire post to the whole process.

And here is my little bleating friend, who felt like a bag of jelly when I picked him up. What is it about a tiny little cry for help (a bleat, if you will) that gets my heart a-fluttering? Sorry it's sideways, there's really nothing I can do about it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Pumpkin, Three Ways

Yellow, Orange, Green

With salt and olive oil,
sesame oil and soy sauce,
cinnamon and sugar.

Whole, Lantern, Seeds.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Fall has Fallen

I'm not sure how it happened, because autumn is my favorite season, but I must have missed the fall in Davis last year. I didn't even notice it. It may be because I had just moved here, or because the rain started very early, who knows. But it has come to Davis again, like clockwork (funny how the seasons work like that), and this time I'm enjoying it to its fullest.

Vitis californica

I went out to Stebbins Cold Canyon this morning for a hike and a class on botanical drawing. The canyon is part of the UC Davis Reserve System; it's owned by the University, and used as a site for research and plant collection. It also serves as a public hiking destination. I visited it last spring as well, with my California Floristics class.

Epilobium canum - native California fuchsia

This guy (above) was one of the only flowering plants still going in late October, the native fuchsia. It was beautiful, with it's bright salmon flowers and sage green foliage that turned magenta as it aged (sorry, I was too short-sighted to take a picture of the leaves).

Vitis californica - California wild grape

There was a surprising amount of color in the plant foliage too. These grape leaves were just glowing in the sun. The grape leaves gave the most color to the landscape, all yellows and red and browns. But if you looked closely you could also see splashes of color in the details too, like this bizarre oak gall.

insect gall on a Quercus wislizeni - interior live oak

There was some really interesting architecture to the landscape too, mostly due to deciduous trees that had lost their leaves. Here is a California buckeye, which is drought deciduous (loses its leaves in summer). Check out those buckeyes hanging off of the bare branches like little Christmas balls on a Charlie Brown tree.

Aesculus californica - California buckeye in fruit

And where would an outdoorsy post be on e.r.r.a.n.t. without a picture of lichen on a rock?

Finally, onto some of the art. We hiked for about an hour and a half, stopping to talk and sketch along the way. Here is one of my favorite sketches. First the photo of the plant, a redbud tree, Cercis occidentalis. The bright reddish-brown pods and yellowing leaves represented a large part of the color-change in the canyon, alongside the wild grape vines.

And now my drawing. I'm pretty proud of it, it was my first sketch of the day.

Today was one of those really windy fall days, where the light is slanting, and the wind whips the trees around so the light flickers on the ground. So how did I miss all of the beautiful color changes and weather changes of Davis' autumn last year? It might be because the changes are subtle. I'm more prepared at this moment to notice the subtle changes in my life and surroundings than I was last year, when everything in my life had been turned upside down. Well, that's one theory.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Rub a dub dub

I'm TA-ing for an introductory horticulture class (Plant Biology 1) and all of the students have to plant vegetable gardens. The perks of being the TA for the class is that I get access to all left-overs. Woohoo! So here's the flat of veggie starts I brought home last week to transplant.

They are all winter veggies, and the growing season in Davis never really ends, so planting a veggie garden in October isn't as absurd as it sounds.

We have cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Chinese cabbage . . .

. . . celery, pak choi, two types of swiss chard, and two types of lettuce.

The three pictures above were taken by my lovely housemate, Crystal.

We have plans for permanent raised beds in one area of the yard, but I wanted this to actually get done now, so I used containers. A container veggie garden, oh boy.

I got these lovely, slightly expensive metal tubs from a local hardware store, and the local Ace Hardware. A screw-driver and a brick did the trick for adding drainage holes. The blue one in the middle was a failed attempt at spray painting on my part, I didn't use it in the veggie garden plantings because I have other plans for it. Spray-painting is way harder than it looks.

Here's my lovely hippy-dippy potting soil. It has organic fertilizers in it, like bat guano. No joke. I wore my gloves.

And here they are!

The lettuce is ready to harvest already because most of the transplants are kind of old and hardened off. But hey, free plants! You can't beat 'em.

I'm bashful to admit that this is my first ever vegetable garden. Isn't that ridiculous? I'm a horticulture graduate student for goodness sake. So it's an experiment. I'll keep you posted as things progress and harvesting occurs.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Faster than a speeding bullet . . .

. . . our CSA veggies went from the box, to this:

. . . and straight into our bellies. Fully Belly Farm, we salute you.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bread and Circus

"Bread and Circus" is a phrase that comes from ancient Rome. It refers to government programs that supplied free food and entertainment to citizens in order to distract them from more important political issues.

I participated in a class through the Experimental College on campus entitled "Bread and Circus," which took the words a bit more literally. We baked bread, and while we waited for it to rise we played; baking pies, running around outside on the grass, making cookies and pretzels, and dancing to African music. It was a fabulous Saturday activity, and I finally learned how to make bread that isn't a brick (see post from a few months ago).

My friend Ian was teaching the class, and he taught us the basic chemistry involved in bread making. Something I never realized is that the most successful bread has really long chains of gluten, which stretch and hold in the carbon dioxide created by the yeast. So in order to get the longest strands of gluten, you have to avoid any actions that will "cut" through the dough. This is why your mixing and kneading technique is so important.

We had all sorts of yummy things to put into the bread - nuts and grains and garlic, etc. I used poppy seeds in mine.

The dough in the bottom right corner of the picture above was made by me!

There it is again, in the center of the three loaves on the right of the picture. It has an E on it, because I thought I was being funny.

OMG, it's not a brick!

Mmmm, tasty.

Ooo, I just realized that this is my 100th post!


The photos of my friends and me during the pirate critical mass are up, along with their blog post all about the time they spent here in Davis. See it for yourself on their website.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

These Plants Need Some Chicken Soup

I'm taking a plant pathology class this quarter (my only class, and I'm taking it Pass/Fail, but still, where does the time go?). We went on a field trip to see some diseased plants at the Horticulture and Agronomy field sites off campus a few weeks ago and I took some pictures, in an attempt to supply myself with visual aids.

Plant pathology is basically the study of plant diseases, and it encompasses mainly those caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Maybe I'm a plant nerd (I guess that's undeniable) but I think it's really cool, and some of the diseases are incredibly fascinating and even quite beautiful. Here are some examples:

Powdery mildew on strawberry leaves - caused by the fungus Podosphaera aphanis

Botrytis fruit rot on a strawberry - caused by the fungus Botrytis cinerea. There were plenty of non-diseased strawberries in this field too, and many of them made it into my mouth.

Leaf roll on grape leaves - caused by a grape leafroll virus (clever name). This one is really interesting because the virus interferes with the plant's phloem, so it can't transfer sugar from the leaves (where it's made via photosynthesis) to the rest of the plant. The sugar gets stuck in the leaves and discolors them and makes them feel stiff and hard.

A different type of powdery mildew on grape berries (a technical term, I know, weird) - caused by the fungus Uncinula necator.

Common smut of corn - caused by the fungus Ustilago maydis. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww (snickersnicker, "smut," snickersnicker).

The idea that there is beauty in death and disease is not new. Although some of these diseases are disgusting, they are also incredibly complex and vital parts of life on Earth. Disease is natural, though agriculture has led to unnatural patterns and resistance, but that's another story. One of my favorite photographers, Irving Penn, makes photos of dying flowers that are as thought-provoking as they are beautiful. Of course I can't find a single one to show you right now, but check him out in the library or the bookstore.