Consecration Acres

"If ye labor with all your might, I will consecrate that spot that it shall be made holy."


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Hay fever

Allergies are always bad when we first move to a new place, but this year, surrounded by our six plus acres of ungrazed and merrily wind-pollinating grasses, we are really suffering.  Elijah helped me disinter the garden hose that was buried beneath all the huge irrigation pipes yesterday and ended up with his eyes literally swollen shut for a while.  I stayed out and watered everything and even with the herbs that I take I am still feeling pretty awful.  NEXT YEAR all the garden/orchard/whatever-else heavy lifting has to be done before June strikes, and our watering must be automatic!  It was a little tricky to keep up before allergy season hit, but now it is really not going well.

Since I last wrote we have put in the second bed of strawberries, some Fall Gold raspberries, three little grape vines, a few tomatoes and some peppers.  My husband bought cabbages and eggplants as well, but I haven’t managed to stay outside long enough to finish prepping their bed so I can plant them.  Considering everything—spotty watering, weeds trying to reclaim the beds, no fertilizer—they are all hanging in there pretty well.  The radishes are really good, the Red Sails and Red Romaine lettuces are gorgeous and the beets and chard have finally decided to pick it up and grow.  The peas are holding eachother up this year (weird!) and are putting out their first blossoms. My purple artichokes all came up, but are being really slow, while only one of my green artichokes came up but it is growing well.  So far my non-red lettuces have made a pitiful show, the spinach likewise, my carrots REALLY need more and really consistent water and I’m getting ready to declare the Brussels sprouts no-shows.  Now if I could just stand to be out there long enough to record my varieties, then this farm journal might really be worth having.

We are working on the fertilizer production.  After mulling various animal possibilities, discovering that one of the Navajo-Churro sheep the farmer wanted to sell was an extremely old ewe, and reviewing our budget and the need for outbuildings to overwinter animals, we decided instead to purchase a Holstein steer from our neighbor.  He is (mostly) happily grazing down our upper pasture and will be butchered in the fall before the snows hit.  He has no name.  We tried for a while, but couldn’t agree on anything, and as he is just going to become meat…  I would say “poor fellow” but he is living a fantastically bovine life out there—eating, drinking and fertilizing the days away.  The only thing he misses are his herd mates when they are grazing at the far end of the neighbor’s pasture.  As he is basically a waste product of the dairy industry in this area, things could be much worse for him.

You may recall my rantings over the price of hay back in CA.  As we are in peak haying season and rain is supposed to hit this week, farmers all over the valley are advertising hay $2-$3 per bale to anyone who will come and collect it.  Good grief!  And now we have no place to store it and no animals that will need it…  Elijah suggested that we could buy some and build a barn out of it.  🙂


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End of an era

This Thursday, Elijah left for his first day of full-time employment.  Moms get misty watching their 5 and 6-year-olds toddle off with lunchboxes and backpacks for their first day of school, I admit to mist as I watched my 17 ½ year old leave the house with his giant insulated lunch pack (he is 17, after all) and drive away.  I feel remarkably blessed to have spent nearly every day of those years nearby, to have been able to guide and to witness the spectrum of his transformation from a little round baby boy, to a young man ready to take on adulthood.  It has been an honor and a joy.

I remember being a young mom and going to the extra effort to drop my husband off at work in the early morning so that I could attend a La Leche League meeting.  I was feeling a little isolated at home and was hoping to meet like-minded women and enjoy some adult conversation.  I found the meeting place and apologetically squeezed myself and Elijah into the only (and very slim) remaining spot on a couch in the leader’s living room.  The mini-lesson lasted about 45 minutes and then the leader opened the remaining time for socializing or one-on-one questions.  I hate small-talk with a passion, but recognize that it is typically a necessary evil to get to the meatier stuff on the other side, so I probably prepared my face with a smile and my mind for fluffy exchanges, but even that was not to be.  The woman on my right turned to the women on her right, the woman on my left to the women on her left and they started talking to eachother immediately.  I looked around the room, still smiling and hoping to catch someone’s eye, but it was the same everywhere—everyone appeared to be engaged with someone else and it was all appearing pretty hopeless—until I looked down.  Elijah was sitting on my knees, facing me.  He must have picked up on my expression, because he was looking up at me with his eyes wide open and a bright, expectant smile on his face.  I bent down, smiled back at him, and we un-wedged ourselves and went home.  Home is a pretty great place when there are such great people in it.

Garden news—we appear to have baby lettuces and some peas coming up, I am not sure about anything else as there are a lot of weeds in the mix as well.  Bethel and I put in one bed of strawberries on Friday.  They were not labelled so I am not sure if they are the June-bearing or Everbearing variety—anyhow, I am hoping to get the other batch in early this week.  I also planted our third garden bed yesterday with radishes, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, artichokes and chard.  My layout is silly and planning is next to zero, but we are in the phase of just throwing things in and hoping something will work out.  Next year, or maybe even the fall garden will be better.  Right now I am really wishing that we had irrigation down there.  The rain is a little inconsistent for seedlings and the canals probably won’t have water until the end of the month!

We also really need to figure out fencing.  We will really miss having Elijah around for that project.  Isaiah and Bethel will just have to burly-up.


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Putting down roots again

Literally.  Over the last couple of weeks I have been going out, for a few minutes initially, but slowly building up to a goodly amount of time, and pulling grass and weeds out of our garden plots-to-be.  We are blessed with good soil here and haven’t seen significant rodent diggings, so our plots are in-ground.  We prepared them about as far down as our boxes were deep in CA.  Major differences include an abundance of earthworms and a paucity of rocks.  Weird!  I remember being well into the 2015 growing season before I found my first earthworm in CA.  Anyhow, yesterday we planted fava beans (Elijah’s request), peas, beets, carrots, spinach and lettuce.  I stayed out a bit too long and ended up sunburned for the first time in I can’t remember how long, but it is supposed to rain all week and I wanted everything to be able to take advantage of that and not go in a week later and require handwatering during sprouting.  It is really funny not to have to have weeks of bed-building, and soil mixing and moving (not to mention months of deer fencing installation) preceding planting.  My fingers are emphatically crossed as we head into the growing season that this will do and that we can get some home-grown something this year.

Isaiah has been hawkishly watching the free offerings online.  He was terribly disappointed last week that neither Elijah nor my husband would take him to pick up a free pile of coal (for blacksmithing), but he managed to get a ride this week to go pick up some free fleeces.  He had spun and then knit himself an earwarmer a couple of years ago, but ended up leaving it in someone’s car this fall.  Now we have four garbage bags full of unwashed, uncarded, completely raw wool in the garage and he could knit us all union suits.  Isaiah’s a fun fellow…and incredibly excited about his score.

The sheep that the fleeces came from were a variety called Navajo-Churro.  They are supposed to be very, very hardy, as in, not needing any shelter at all ever.  Being barn-less and needing to have animals on the pasture for at least four months out of the year in order to maintain its agricultural status (and agricultural tax rate) we are wondering if they would be a good choice.  Research required.  My husband really wants to get a steer or two out there.  While I really like the idea of raising our own meat, our fences are far from Joseph-proof and the discrepancy between a steer’s size and Joseph’s wisdom and obedience level makes me nervous.  We shall see…

Early this week I sent off the forms that will officially make us fully and completely goat-less.  It was rather sad and of course inspired me to start looking for new ones, but the reality is that as long as we are barn-less, we must also be goat-less.  Nubians, at least, need nighttime overhead covering and good shelter for kidding.

Despite not having much in the way of livestock, we ended up having babies anyhow.  A cat adopted us (Joseph named her “Num”, his word for the sound she makes) and a few weeks ago when the kids were in the garage, she was in a little niche where we keep the mop and Bethel heard a high-pitched meowing.  She looked at Num and her mouth wasn’t moving.  She had had four kittens, one died at or shortly after birth, and the remaining three are all girls.  We named them Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie.  We got Theo and Thea as kittens back in OR, but they were already weaned and well into the twitchy, hunter-instincts-awakening phase.  I have learned that kittens before that point are very sweet.  The kids think so too and I had to start making threats to get them to keep them outside as I kept finding indoor children reading books with sleepy kittens on their laps.  Cute and picturesque until my cat-allergic family members can no longer come to our house!

It is nice to feel somewhat more normal.  This has been a very long year.


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Checking in

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a year.

I had a gut feeling that this move would be a hard one, and it has been.  I keep thinking of that “peace that passeth all understanding”, peace in the midst of not-peaceful things.  This move has been sure-ness in the midst of things making us unsure.  Many steps along the way have been longer and more difficult than we expected.

Our house sold fairly quickly.  We decided to be flexible on the price as our realtor was recommending some pretty major upgrades in order to get it to sell and we felt better about a bird in the hand than the two in the bush.  It was nice to finally stop hemorrhaging money on that end.  We made multiple offers on multiple properties here, but kept being unable to settle on a price.  We also kept finding houses that either I liked, or my husband liked but that we couldn’t agree on.  We were almost ready to commit to the extensive timeline of building our own, when a house that we had looked at before dropped in price and we decided to take a second look.  We figured out what the necessary updates would cost and made the owners an offer.  After a bit of back and forth we settled on a price.  Our closing date was about 2 1/2 weeks before the rental period on our house was up, so we decided to spend that time getting as many of the updates done as we could before we had to move and live in drywall dust.  The kids enjoyed running around the yard, climbing the trees and digging in the good-sized pasture.  The olders and I framed a wall, fished wire, installed outlets and removed a sliding door.  While we were removing the door, we discovered rotten wood underneath and around the bottom (doesn’t one always).  I scraped out everything that was soggy and removed the deck board immediately in front of the door as it was too far gone to save.  I then framed the opening to prepare it for a window.  A friend came over to help us with the installation–he held the window in place from the inside while I screwed it into the frame.  As I had not yet replaced the deck board and the top of the window was out of my reach, I had to be really careful about how I placed the feet of my stepstool in order to keep all four on a solid surface.  Apparently, I bumped it with my leg that last time.  I climbed up, lifted my drill to begin working and then fell sideways and backwards, landing on the deck steps on the right side of my tailbone.  My head also hit the deck quite hard and I quickly felt rather nauseated, but whether I was dealing with nausea as a concussion symptom or as a result of pain, I couldn’t yet tell.  But I also felt a deep sense of calm and that the Lord was aware of me–this was my first clue that this was going to be a big deal. After a couple of minutes, I felt like I could hobble into the house.  I went into the bathroom to assess my injuries.  No broken skin, really painful tailbone, really tender head and I was having a hard time not passing out.  It took me several tries to get out of the bathroom and onto my bedroom floor.  For the next couple of hours I took a lot of herbs and homeopathics to reduce bruising and to keep me conscious.  Eventually the pain and shockiness wore off enough to tell that I was really uncomfortable on the floor and I got one of the boys to set up a mattress and find me some blankets and after I checked my pupil response (fine) I fell asleep.

I’ll stop with the boring and painful details.  My tailbone was broken.  Initial hopes that I’d be up after a couple of days did not materialize.  My mom came into town shortly afterwards, but the work was just too much for her and the kids so we ended up calling in an army of women from our church to finish packing up and cleaning the rental.  It was pretty awful just having to lie there while everyone was working so hard, but that was really all I could do.  It was a bit of a relief when they finally moved me and my bed over to the other house so that at least I didn’t have to watch.  Everyone was so willing and kind and we made the deadline.

Since then it has been a process of gradually adjusting our plans to the reality of our situation.  We hired out some of the work to make the house liveable, we chucked out plans to get a big garden in and animals and the garage converted this summer.  We had boarded our goats with our neighbor goat lady back in CA in hopes of bringing them out, but with no barn or near prospects of building one, it became apparent that we would need to sell our goats.  Unfortunately, Ella and Penny are ADGA registered dairy goats and I could not find the paperwork to transfer ownership.  We finally found these last week, SO now that we have no goats, we are finally ADGA members so that I can register Margot, Flower, Blossom and Margot’s new, beautiful, pure white doeling (born on Memorial Day if I remember right) so that we can sell them all to pay the feed bills for the last several months!  It’s rather a depressing business, honestly…and wildly complex. The procedure follows:

In order to register and transfer dairy goats, one has to be a member with a membership name and have a member number.  This is $35 and good for 15 months if one purchases in September, but only good for 4 months if one purchases in August.  Go figure.  One also needs to request a tattoo to permanently mark one’s goats with a unique series of four letters and numbers to designate the herd of birth.  Think branding, except it’s in the ear with ink rather than on the rump with a hot iron.  It’s actually not even visible unless you take the goat into a fairly dark room and shine a flashlight through their ear, and this is about as much fun as it sounds like it would be.  Both of these can be applied for online.  One also needs a PIN, which is assigned at random by ADGA and a signature authorization form so that they have records of the signatures that can be accepted for goat transfers.  Both of these must be sent by snail mail, but have no fee associated.  Next, in order to give your goats registerable names, you must have a herd name.  This must be unique and costs $15 to register.  Unfortunately, they do not publish “taken” herd names online, but, I hear, some day they may send them to me in the mail for my perusal.  As this did not fit my timeline, I poked around and found an online forum where someone had the same question.  Turns out, you can’t look up registered herd names, but you can look up registered goat names, AND as the herd name is the first part of each goat’s name, you can kind of figure out what’s available.  Nothing came up when I typed in “consecration acres”, so I went ahead and applied for that.  Here’s the website if anyone should need it: http://adgagenetics.org/ .  I am just hoping I will not need it again, as I am still waiting for approval.  All right, now once I have a herd name, then I can finally fill out registration forms for our goats.  These require Sire and Dam names, Dam’s breed date, the goat’s birth date, physical description and name.  The name consists of herd name + whatever else, limited to 30 characters.  There is also a fairly nominal goat registration fee.  Once I receive their registration papers I can then pay another nominal fee to transfer ownership and then I am finally goat-less.  Sigh.  I am considering it just the next class in Goat School.  (And excuse my mid-stream switch from “one” to “I”–I am not going to go back and make it uniform.)

So that’s it for homesteading–lots of heel-cooling going on.  Elijah planted a few things and we have eaten them.  I am glad to see things growing out there, even if it’s small for now.  I read a blog recently where someone had mulched her garden with hay and nothing would grow.  Apparently, the field the hay came from had been treated with a persistent broadleaf herbicide that killed all of her garden plants off.  As our pasture/future garden and orchard had been used for horses before I wondered if we’d find any major issues, but so far so good.

That’s it for now.  Perhaps next time I’ll write about what I’ve been doing to while away the hours of broken tailbone-dom.


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Change

Some are gradual and some are sudden. Fall arrived quickly—90+ temperatures one week and our first frost the next. We tarped the peppers and eggplants and row-covered one row of tomatoes and they weathered our first frost quite well. The uncovered tomatoes suffered some frost damage, but kept on growing. We had pulled out some of the uncovered tomato plants and hung them upside down in the bonus room when we saw that frost was approaching. They have continued to ripen, but, unfortunately the grape tomatoes fall off and roll down the stairs as soon as they turn red. There have been some casualties when people go up the stairs without looking down first… This week we will see lows in the 20s and there is no significant rise in sight, so we hung a bunch more tomato plants up in the bonus room and harvested all the remaining peppers (a five-gallon bucketful!), eggplants and frost-tender herbs. It is a mess up there now, but one that makes me happy.

We also started digging up the sweet potatoes. The frosts had started to kill the vines and I read that if they were left in place then they could spread rot to the sweet potatoes, so I went and yanked them all out. When I did so, I saw a lot of evidence of voles in the bed and so I started digging. I got about 1/3 of the way through the section of the bed that we have been digging from already and I have a heaping 5–gallon bucket. I expect that I will dig up another 2-3 bucketsful before I am done.

The carrots are early harvest size (we are perhaps a little impatient) and the radishes have been fun to look at and eat. We planted a watermelon variety with a pale green outer skin and pink or purply-red inside. They are mild enough to eat plain. We are also nibbling at the lettuces. The Ben Shemen variety is my favorite so far—mild and buttery. We also have one good-sized Pak Choi that survived from the first planting surrounded by a lot of babies from the second, a bunch of spinach, chard and beets on their way, peas in need of taller supports and green shoots from the garlic and onions filling their allocated bed.

In the barnyard, we butchered our first batch of chickens and need to get to the rest ASAP. And we will be boarding Penny and Margo in a stall next to our neighbor’s buck beginning early the week after this so that they can be bred. The roof is finally on the stall. We have gotten rain since then and, oh my, how wonderful and dry it is under there!

And so things plug along here. Oddly, we will not be here to see the completion of some of these cycles as my husband has accepted a job in Utah and we will be moving early next year. I have frequent moments of panic. We have worked so hard here and have been greatly enjoying both the fruits of our labors and the unearned blessings of a generous God in this place. I will submit to His will, whatever it may be, but I so hope that we will have land and the ability to do this again. I have so loved it.

And so, expect infrequent posting for a while—until we are settled again.


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Someone’s been eating my garden

We still don’t know who, or rather, what. All my little whos do their own degree of damage—Joseph likes to pick peppers, take a single bite and then throw them and has also decided that cherry tomatoes are fun to pop, the other littles will pick things too green and waste them—but I have yet to have a child bite the tops off of just-sprouted beets, chard, peas and lettuces. Whatever it is, it’s a nasty piece of work. As we still have warm weather I decided to try yet again and I’m gradually replanting everything under floating row covers. So far, I am loving them, and so are all my plants. Instead of going out and lamenting every morning, I go out and sing the praises of whoever invented this wonderful stuff.

We are enjoying our small, but tasty harvest of fall raspberries. I know that raspberries tend to take over and become a bit of a headache eventually, but right now that sounds like a nice problem. They are so, so good.

The tomatoes, also, cannot come on fast enough. The kids usually beat me out there every morning, so by the time I get there, what is left is really green. I do have a secret, though…there’s a tomato on one end called a Purple Cherokee that only blushes pink on the bottom and always stays green on top. Oh, so delicious. And because they don’t look ripe, they are still there when the kids have picked everything else clean. Shhhh…

And I don’t think I’m liking Romas that much. The flavor is poor and if I can get something more dual purpose to work, I think I’d rather.

I made a third batch of makdous. It turned out better than the 2nd (no fruit flies!), but I still had some mold and some were a little alcoholly smelling again. I had found my recipe a year ago and saved it for when I had baby eggplants, but I decided to search makdous recipes again and see if there were any variations that might provide a clue to the issues I was having. Yes! My recipe dry-ferments (I don’t know if that’s the technical term, but there is a lot of salt but no water involved) for a total of five days which was 2-5 times as long as any of the other recipes directed! So, I am going to try a three-day ferment, two without stuffing and one more with and them into the jars. I am hopeful that this will do the trick and that my chickens will stop getting so much makdous.

I taught an home herbal medicine class this week and I have serious housekeeping back up. Among many other things my kitchen is full of past canning projects that need to be cleaned up, labelled, boxed and put away. Cucumbers were on sale and I want to try some fermented pickles (the family that was staying with us brought some and they were fantastic) and I’m out of sauerkraut! And then next week we need to do applesauce. My life is all food, all the time. Sometimes I have to laugh at the enormous amount of time it all takes, but I am grateful for my houseful of hungry people and the ability I have to provide the food they need.

The roof is going up on the goat shelter! I am so excited, so looking forward to dry hay in their feeder and less mud. I am funny. I am up to my eyeballs with everything that needs to be done, but I see our friend up there putting that roof together and think, “that’s not hard… I could do that… I should be doing that…” And then my more reasonable self takes me by the shoulders and looks at me with pursed lips and furrowed brows and clears her throat, ahem.

And it is goat-breeding month. I need to get in touch with our neighbor and see if we can just board Margo over there until she’s bred, but we’re doing heat-watch with Penny as we are still milking her. Wish us luck! We have not been wildly successful in the past.


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Sawdust, fermenting woes and an endless summer

Last item first. I think I reached my lifetime capacity for high temperatures while I/we lived in the Phoenix valley. I do try not to complain, but the foggy-brained, energy-drained state that heat puts me into leaves much to be desired. Thank goodness for our evaporatively cooled nights and mornings that allow me to pretend that it is fall.

The benefit of the continuing heat is for both the end of the summer garden (heaven knows we need more eggplants, right?) and the fall/winter garden, which was put in late—as has been our MO this year. Our average 1st frost for this area is supposedly November 14th, but we haven’t had a frost that early since moving here and at least one year we harvested tomatoes in December. As we haven’t had much of a tomato harvest yet, due to too-high temps and irrigation problems, I suppose I can (sigh) suffer with a bit more summer for the possibility of getting a measurable crop. Tomatoes aside, I put in the lettuce, chard, peas and spinach on October 3rd and we’re just seeing our first sprouts. The carrots are looking good, the leeks are up (teeny things) and the first radishes should be ready this week. There are a few beets here and there, but nothing like the number I planted. I am wondering if my soil temp was too high. I really need to figure out the whole shade cloth thing. So many of our gardening issues could be improved.

Apparently, pouring near-boiling water over jalapenos prior to lacto-fermenting them in not a good idea. That jar went to the chickens. The other is in the fridge, awaiting salsa-making. I strung a couple dozen jalapenos onto some cotton kitchen twine and hung them in a west-facing window. Hopefully, they will dry nicely without spoiling, if not, oh well. We are not big jalapeno users, really. I wonder if we should just plant half a jalapeno plant next year.

My second batch of makdous was a disaster. I started them on Monday, stuffed them on Wednesday and was to have put them in jars on Friday. When I opened them, a cloud of fruit flies flew out and they (the makdous) were almost completely covered in gray mold. They also smelled really alcoholic. I think my biggest mistake was cutting some of the longer ones in half before poaching them. They are supposed to be 4” or shorter, but some of the Japanese eggplants were 6”-8”. Cutting them made them draw more water—I noticed when I was salting them that they were really soggy. My second mistake was not putting enough weight on the plate pressing them to squeeze out all that extra water. I think I had close to 10 lbs last time and only about half that this time. My third mistake was not making sure that the cloth covered all the holes in the colander. Fruit flies are small, love fermented stuff and breed rapidly. Those are my theories. Right about now I am rather wishing I could call up my little Lebanese grandmother and get her advice…

Small canning projects continue. I did a batch of pear chutney and some more canned chicken. Doing the store-bought chicken makes me really look forward to having our chicken again. They are getting so close.

We also continue to eat large amounts of food. We ate the first of the garden corn we dried in the form of cornbread. It was very nice. Grains, in general, are labor-intensive to turn into eatables, but the corn was not too bad. Each ear made ¾ cup corn meal and the kernels came off easily when I “wrung” the ear in my hands. The corn seemed a bit softer than the dent I have stored, and only needed to go through the grinder once. We also ate our first pumpkin pies from what we grew. They’ve been sitting out on our porch since July and then cooked for too long. One or the other thing meant that they were not very sweet, still, nice to have pies from our pumpkins, milk and eggs.

Bud sold! Yay! One less mouth to feed over the winter. The debate over which doeling to keep continues. Apparently, this is how one ends up with 7,000 goats.

I am building a canopy bed as this year’s answer to how to keep warm in an unheated bedroom. I have done a bit of woodworking now—a couple coops and other animal shelters, lots of food storage shelves and a couple platform beds—but nothing that was supposed to look like real furniture. I have to say, the finishing work is doing me in. The wood at the big box stores is far from shout-worthy and my little random orbital sander, even with 40 grit, is no match. As I am hoping to do more real-looking furniture in the future, I am thinking that it is time for a belt sander. Mmmmm, excuses to buy power tools…

Bethel and I are in the middle of the fall clothing evaluation/unpacking/purchases. We are done with the three girls and just have the three boys left. I am pleased by how little we actually need. After Joseph was born, we were in pretty rotten shape clothes-wise and it seemed like everyone needed new everything. No longer so! I am grateful for small victories over chaos.