Musings from the Farm

Preparing for the Long Winter’s Nap

By / Photography By Kate Hagel | September 14, 2017
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The sheep at Ballyhope Farm

Most autumn days, you will find me outside enjoying the crisp weather and gorgeous leaf colors that bless this area. One of the wonderful things about autumn is that much of the work has been done. Summer’s bounty from garden and pasture fills the freezer, the woodpile grows steadily, and the hayloft is full.

But as for our ancestors before us, the Harvest Festival celebrated on the day of the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox marks the end of the harvest. Even though it is 2017 and we have a Wegmans down the road, a furnace pumping out heat, and we are not facing a precarious battle of survival over winter, there is still that body memory of our pioneering ancestors that breathes a great sigh of relief each autumn knowing that we are fully stocked. That we can almost look forward to the world shutting down as we are blanketed with silencing snow and long winter nights in the woods.

While I admire Western NYers who embrace skiing, both downhill and cross-country, and other outdoor winter activities, I’m more of a hibernator. My winter here is spent with my knitting and spiked hot cocoa, in my favorite leather chair, in front of a roaring fire, listening to an audiobook by Susanna Kearsley. And you’ll be hard-pressed to pry me out of that spot until April. 

Knitting by the fire at Ballyhope Farm
Preparing for winter at Ballyhope Farm

Being from St. Louis and a climate where winter is a reasonable three months long (which is obviously not the case here), I take my preparation for the Long Winter’s Nap very seriously. So, with my freezer, hayloft and woodpile stocked, autumn is also when I get my most important resource fully supplied: my yarn stash. In between stunning hikes throughout the region to admire the bright fall colors, I head out to squee with delight over the wool offerings and workshops at New York’s fiber festivals.

We all know and embrace the joys and benefits that come from the #eatlocal movement. But what about #knitlocal? While I await the return of my own fiber magically transformed into lofty, luscious yarn by the wizardry of a small fiber mill, I love to explore what other fiber farmers and artists are creating. I enjoy getting up close and personal with the farmers and animals who supply me with my yarn. As with my food, I like to know that the animals are well kept and the fiber is processed at a local fiber mill or hand spun by a local spinner — not processed and shipped all the way from China.

The gorgeous rolling hills of Western New York are home to many fiber farmers and their herds. Most small fiber producers are also doing the important work of helping to conserve the heritage breeds of livestock that preserve our agricultural biodiversity. The three types of sheep that I raise are all listed on the Livestock Conservancy’s list of endangered breeds, and I’m proud of the teeny tiny contribution we are making to keep them thriving. And what you get from a small producer is all the fascinating difference of color and texture that comes from these various breeds of sheep, goats, alpacas and rabbits.

If you’re only getting your yarn from a big-box craft store, you are in for a treat! Try knitting some mittens using Jacob sheep wool. If you think, “Oh I can’t wear wool because it’s too scratchy,” I’d suggest you try knitting with wool from a Cormo sheep. Or a scarf from gorgeous alpaca. Each breed and type of animal produces a unique and wonderfully natural yarn. Plus, you have all the hand-dyed yarns and rovings in colors spanning the rainbow.

I’m a sucker for yarns dyed using natural plants and pigments. And the place to find them is at a fiber festival or a local yarn shop. If you’re an aspiring or beginning fiber artist or knitter, these festivals and small shops are the perfect place to receive inspiration and guidance.

My Pinterest board of knitting patterns is up to 260 pins and my eye is already on the first blanket I’ll be knitting. All I need is the perfect yarns to go with them, and I’m drooling with anticipation about what new yarns I’ll discover. See you at the festivals!

New York and Pennsylvania yarns


Finger Lakes Fiber Festival, September 16-17, Hemlock Fairgrounds, Hemlock

WNY Fiber Arts Festival, September 23, Emery Park, South Wales

Eastern Great Lakes Fiber Conference, October 13-16, Chautauqua Institution

And the Big Mama, New York Sheep and Wool Festival, October 21-22, Duchess County Fairgrounds, Rhinebeck

Article from Edible Western NY at
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