Today I bring you a surprise guest of sorts, a kind gal named Mary Jo of Five Green Acres whom I've know (in that no-physical but online soul-sister sense) for several years.
Mary Jo has begun an adventure that is near and dear to my own heart and I wanted to share here inspiring story with you. What she's doing is certainly on my short list of dreams. Sheep! Dyes! Yarn!
To sweeten the deal I'm also giving away a skein of her handspun wool, so read on to learn more.
Mary Jo has just embarked on several journeys ~ that of keeping sheep, experimenting with fiber dyes, and spinning wool. I interviewed her earlier this week about her new adventure in self-employment and artistic expression, This is Wool.
RJW: I'd love to hear about making the leap from town-living to farm girl. What was that transition like?
was a slow and easy transition, because we're not too far from the city
(Madison) but still have a small town to call home, so it's really the
best of both worlds.
I didn't give too much thought about the community
we were moving into – it was the property that we fell in love with –
and therefore didn't really have any expectations about finding other
like-minded folks in town; I was satisfied with the ability to maintain
my connections in Madison.
I happened upon the newly-formed knitting
group that met at our local library and through that gathering met many
of the folks that are now among our dearest friends. The library was
our gateway to this community.
varies, of course, depending on the time of year. In the spring, we
get chicks and foster their growth through the beginning of summer, then
process the meat – that's the most labor-intensive component of our
The sheep simply require fresh water and pasture
every couple of days during the season of grass, a task which involves
moving the portable electric net fence and takes under 30 minutes.
Shearing, which we've just begun doing ourselves, is very labor
intensive, like you wouldn't believe! But it's one or two days of the
year, and most normal people bring in a shearer to do that.
hens are, like the sheep, easier to care for than dogs – food and water
each day, as well as opening and closing their coop to let them range.
In the winter months, the sheep are pastured right behind the chickens
in a communal space, making it easy to care for both flocks in a short
amount of time. As for the weekends, it's still relatively easy to pile
up enough food for a few days and head out.
the end of the season last year, I put in quite a few new dye plants,
with grand visions for this year's dyeing season.
Then came The
It became clear to me as the summer progressed without any
additional rain, that this year's harvest of wool would need to be dyed
from traditional acid dyes. I feel good about that decision, leaving
the scant goldenrod for the bees, the sumac for the birds to sustain
them through the winter.
Acid dyes will introduce a very different
range of colors to this vintage of wool, giving Second Harvest its own
identity. I hope to return to plant dyeing next year, nature willing,
because nothing is more satisfying to me than growing the dyes which
color my wool.
daughter Isadora. I was researching cloth diapers, and came upon knit
patterns for wool soakers – this is also where I began my love affair
with wool as a fiber!
antibacterial components, and set off for the fiber shop to get some
wool to (learn how to) knit into wool soakers. I sought out the softest
wool I could find, something that I would want to swaddle my
as-yet-unborn baby's butt, and started learning about the different
grades of wool. Who knew there was such a range beyond the "Wool is too
itchy for me" cliche?
overarching decision-maker, as well as availability. As my flock grows,
I've begun selecting for softness and a very fine wool – it must be
luxuriously soft, to be worn next to the skin.