Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The calendar is here!

A few weeks ago Emma came up with the brilliant idea of making a calendar of my work to give to our relatives as Christmas presents.  We also ordered some extras to see if people might want to buy any from my Etsy shop, so if you're interested you can check them out here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/kiyoshimino  The calendar was designed by Emma with photos by myself and Kelty Luber.  

Sunday, December 25, 2011

What it's all about

This photo more than anything else made me feel like all the hundreds of hours that I've put into my needle felting this year were really worth something.  Thank you Kelty for sharing this with me!

Kelty's dad after receiving his christmas present: portraits of his 4 chihuahuas

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Yesterday our friends and neighbors Terry and Judy Bachtold of Grazin' Acres Farm came by to deliver our cow (technically steer), #13.  #13 is a 4-5 month old black angus steer, or castrated bull.  Terry and Judy have a great farm just a few minutes south of us where they raise 100% grass fed black angus cattle for beef.  Terry works for the Natural Resource Conservation Service of the USDA and is our advisor on government natural resource conservation, and technical assistance programs, and Judy is our mail lady.  I just love small towns! 
So Emma and I spent much of this week putting up an electric fence around the one acre of pasture in front of Mr. Harms' barn.  This is where #13 will be spending the winter, with free access to the barn and he will be joined by our sheep in a couple weeks.  Yesterday our good friend from Farm School,  Lee Smith arrived and she will be staying with us and helping us out for the week.  She helped us move him into his new home and I was glad to have her help because so far #13 seems to be a particularly fiesty little cow (by little I mean 500 lbs).  He tried to charge and head butt all three of us and he seems to like to charge at cars too.  Luckily he knows not to get too close to electric fences so hopefully we will not find him on the road chasing after passing cars tomorrow morning.

Friday, December 16, 2011


This morning our friends Marty and Kris Travis of Spence Farm came over to visit, and drop off our brand new piglets!  The two piglets were our payment for looking after their farm last week while they were away at a farm conference.  The two of them are the driving force behind a recent sustainable farming renaissance in our corner of central Illinois.  They started The Spence Farm Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to educate children and adults in the area about sustainable farming practices and The Stewards of the Land, a group of like-minded local farmers that work together to market their produce mostly to up-scale restaurants in Chicago, Champaign and Bloomington.  They are actually helping to start a new group similar to the Stewards of the Land of which Emma and I will be founding members!  Over the past few weeks we have been attending regular meetings with about a dozen other local, up and coming farmers to get the group up and running for next year.  Most likely we will be jointly marketing through buying clubs or CSAs, and possibly grocery stores in Chicago, Bloomington or Champaign.  Emma and I still plan to sell at the Urbana Farmers Market and run our own meat CSA in Chicago but this new group will be a great way to open up some new markets and build relationships with other area farmers. 
So our new piglets are American Guinea hogs, a rare and endangered breed that Marty and Kris are working to save by breeding a small herd on their own farm.  We on the other hand will be raising them to be eaten... but eventually we plan to breed our own pigs too!  They are going to be spending the winter in a nice big paddock in the pasture behind our house with a nice cozy shelter, also generously provided by Marty and Kris.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cuteness overload

Due to popular demand I have added a couple pictures of our brand new chicks.  When they grow up, these little ladies are going to become our laying hens.

One of our 50 new Rhode Island Red chicks
One of our 25 Speckled Sussex

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Newest work

 Both of my parents just celebrated their birthdays at the end of October so I made each of them a needle-felted animal (of course).  For my dad I made a Japanese macaque.  I had him eating a sweet potato because I like the fact that these monkeys like to dip sweet potatoes in the ocean to wash and season them before eating them.  I made my mom a Jersey cow because she was born on the year of the cow in the Chinese zodiac and she's always liked cows.  The very professional looking studio photos of the monkey are courtesy of my friend Kelty of steepstreet.com


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Food! From our farm!

On Thursday we took our first batch of birds to the slaughterhouse.  25 of our ducks and 16 of our roosters.  So that leaves us with 5 ducks: 1 drake and 4 females, and 26 chickens: 1 rooster and 25 pullets.  We learned a couple valuable lessons on that day.  First of all dual purpose heritage breed chickens do not grow fast enough to reach a good slaughter weight in 3 months and secondly, neither do Rouen ducks.  Suffice it to say, our chickens and ducks came back looking a little small.  The chicken carcasses were about 2lbs so they will make good fryers and the duck carcasses were about 3lbs.  Next time we plan to raise a chicken breed that was meant for meat production.  We will probably stick with the Rouen ducks but raise them for at least another month.  The good news is, we had one of the chickens for dinner Friday night and it tasted delicious.
We were however very happy with the slaughterhouse itself.  It's a very small operation run by an Amish family, and the waiting area has a large window that allows customers to see everything that goes on.  Nevertheless I felt terribly guilty dropping our birds off to be slaughtered after having cared for them from the time they were less than 2 days old.  But I just have to remind myself that they had very happy lives and they died for a good cause: feeding people in a healthy way that is not harmful to the environment.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Real farming 101

Last week was another busy one for us on the farm.  The Harms' tenant farmer had just finished harvesting the corn off of the land around our house so we could finally start prepping our 10 acres for next year. Out of these ten acres we will be using 6 acres for pasture and 4 for vegetable fields.
Our original plan was to cover crop all 10 acres with rye and vetch to build up the organic matter and nutrients in the soil and let the root growth alleviate some of the soil compaction.  However since the corn did not get harvested until the middle of October we didn't want to take the risk of having all 10 acres of cover crop fail to germinate due to cold weather.  So we decided to plant just the 4 acres we will be using for vegetable fields.
Of course none of this went according to plan.  First we couldn't find nearly enough rye seed to cover 4 acres.  We needed 200lbs but ended up with only 125.  Because of this we could only seed 2 acres. 
Next we needed a manure spreader to spread some compost we had purchased from our neighbors' dairy farm.  Amazingly, our neighbors at South Pork Ranch happened to have one taking up space on their farm so they just told us we could have it!  We were excited to use it so we filled it up and drove it out to the field.  But as soon as we fired up the tractor's PTO (power take off) a vital piece of the spreader just fell off.  So much for spreading compost.  Next we used Mr. Harms' tractor and disc harrow to cut up the corn stalks and till the field.  That went smoothly but there was so much crop residue on top of the field that running the disc over it a couple times did not expose much soil.  For the final step of seeding the rye and vetch the plan was for us to use a couple of push seeders that we got for cheap at the Champaign Habitat for Humanity store.  As soon as we pushed them out onto the field we realized that wasn't going to happen.  The terrain was just too rough for the seeders to work properly.  So Emma and I spent the whole morning walking back and forth across our 2 acre field, tossing seeds out of a bucket.  Now we just hope the seeds actually manage to grow in spite of all the crop residue and the cold, having been planted so late in the fall.
Emma discing in the corn stalks with Mr. Harms' tractor and disc harrow
Rye and vetch seeds
Seeding our cover crops

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Making hay with Mr. Harms

Yesterday evening we finished making our first batch of hay!  But we could not have done it without the help of our next door neighbor and landlord's father, Herman Harms.  He has generously given us the use of his barn, his tractor and the 5 acres of pasture around his farmhouse free of charge.  Even more importantly he has been a constant source of help and advice since we first arrived here in July.  He has farmed this land ever since he returned home from serving in World War II, so it's safe to say he knows a thing or two about farming.
We decided last week to make hay out of the approximately 1 acre pasture behind Mr. Harms' barn because the weather forecast looked good and the grass was nice and tall.  On Friday we cut the grass using the side mounted sickle bar mower on our Allis Chalmers C tractor.  At first the bar kept getting clogged up but Mr. Harms helped us figure out how to adjust the height of the sickle bar so that it would cut smoothly.  On Saturday afternoon we used Mr. Harms' side delivery rake to rake the hay into windrows (linear piles), flipping the hay over so that it would dry evenly.  Then we flipped the windrows over on Sunday speed up the curing process.  On Monday afternoon, as suggested by Mr. Harms, we consolidated the windrows into several large piles in order to make collecting the hay a lot quicker and easier.  In spite of our protests Mr. Harms insisted on picking up a hay fork and helping us with this.  Then that same evening we began collecting the hay.  Mr. Harms pulled a flatbed trailer around the field with his tractor while Emma and I forked the hay.  We got half of it done on Monday and finished the second half on Tuesday.  We ended up with so much hay that it takes up almost half of the first floor of Mr. Harms barn, piled almost to the ceiling.

Emma making windrows

Mr Harms and Emma raking hay

Emma and Mr Harms harvesting hay

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


The last couple of weeks have been a bit traumatic for our poor chickens.  We lost nine of them to various predators.  Five of the casualties we never found any trace of, which probably means they were taken away by a hawk.  The rest were left headless by either a skunk or a weasel (they like to just eat the heads and drink the blood).  This week we are trying to keep Adzuki outside with them as much as possible and that seems to be helping so far.
Our sheep meanwhile are doing very well.  The first few days after we brought them to our farm they were scared of us but we've managed to win their love through bribery, using treats of grain and tree branches full of delicious leaves (for some reason their favorite food in the world seems to be trees of any type).  Now they come running to greet us and follow us around their paddock. 

Our ram, who we've decided to name Heimdal, after the guardian of the gods from Norse  mythology.  (Thanks Adam for the suggestion!)

I'm still keeping busy with my needle-felting.  I've been doing a lot of dog portraits lately as you can see:

An enormous Tibetan mastiff named Cider

Thursday, September 8, 2011

We have Sheep!

Today Emma and I drove out to Red Brick Road Farm to pick up our sheep.  It had to be the most beautiful farm we had ever seen.  The sheep were free to roam around a large area encompassing a small patch of forest, a beautiful creek and an expansive pasture.
So we now have 6 sheep: 1 ram lamb, 3 ewe lambs, and 2 adult ewes.  They are all Icelandics, one of the most ancient breeds of domestic sheep in the world.  They've been around for 1100 years!

    our young ram

    mutual suspicion

So far this week has been an extremely busy one for our farm.  Aside from preparing for the arrival of our sheep, Emma and I built another mobile coop for our chickens, ground hundreds of pounds of chicken/duck feed and on Friday we moved the chicks out to join the ducklings on pasture.

    do you think it's safe?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Blue Jay

Today I just completed a blue jay sculpture for my friend Christine White, accomplished felt artist and founder of New England Felting Supply and Magpie Designs.  It is meant to be a thank you gift to her for believing in me from the beginning and encouraging me more than anyone else to devote myself to this new passion of mine.  And of course for opening a store that makes it possible for me to make my sculptures!  There's no way I would have been able to find wool in all the right shades of blue for a blue jay anywhere else.

Lucky Ducks

On Sunday my mother and her friend Marty came to visit and helped us with our ducklings' big move out onto pasture.  We placed them one by one into their newly built shelter, but then they were too afraid to venture out of it for the rest of the day.   Ever since then however they have been loving the great outdoors: eating fresh grass and splashing around in their little aluminum pan swimming pools.   

Saturday, August 20, 2011

New member of the family

A week ago Emma and I adopted a dog from a local animal shelter.  We wanted a dog that might be able to help us with moving our cows and sheep so we chose a 3 year old Australian cattle dog mix.  We don't know if she will make a good shepherd yet but we definitely lucked out in every other way.  She is incredibly sweet and well behaved so we named her Adzuki (the red beans used to make sweet bean paste). 

We've been keeping busy caring for our chicks and ducklings who are now 2 weeks old.  They are all still in great health and growing amazingly fast.  The ducklings are towering over the chicks now but the chicks have grown beautiful wings which they've been using to jump up on top of the walls of their enclosure.  We actually just yesterday had to put up a simple wire fence around their kiddie pool to extend the height of their wall.

To keep up with our rapidly growing birds Emma and I spent much of the week designing and building their future home.  It's a mobile chicken coop made mostly from scrap wood we found lying around the farm with a PVC pipe and plastic tarp roof.  The coop will serve as their nighttime roost and shelter from the elements.  It'll be surrounded with a perimeter electrified (for their protection against predators) fence once we put the chicks and ducklings out on pasture a couple of weeks from now.  We will move their enclosure, coop and all every few days depending on how quickly they eat the grass.

I have still found time to do my needlefelting as well, and in the past couple of weeks I have made this Ostrich on commission as well as a couple of dog portraits for my mother's cousin, Katherine.  Katherine's dog Rusty (the chow in the last photo) sadly just passed away yesterday.  I sincerely hope that my portrait of him will serve as a worthy memorial.