Consecration Acres

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

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February Whirlwind and Big Plans

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I last posted.  This month has been so, so busy.  I have Church responsibilities for helping the members of our womens’ organization to learn to live more providently and had planned a breadmaking class (I felt good about the decision heading into it but felt better and better as I asked around and discovered how FEW knew how to make bread!  My family can save ten dollars a week off our grocery bill by making our own, and then there’s the whole food storage issue.  If you have wheat stored, (please have wheat stored) how will you use it if you don’t make bread?), but I started to think about how many Church members we have with wheat/gluten issues and decided to out out feelers on doing a gluten-free bread class.  I had a dozen yeses and had tracked down a teacher within about 48 hours, so we’re doing that one next week.  Pretty good turnout for the regular ol’ bread class last week, too.  I wish we could get EVERYONE, but we’ll do this again.  Maybe next year when the baby is getting biggish (and I’ve gotten another starter going well…*sob*… mine was murdered while I was 1st trimestering) I’ll do a sourdough class.  We also ought to do tortillas, bagels, crackers….always plenty to do.

Anyhow, in between planning events, seeing the midwives every other week and a whole family’s worth of dentist appointments (no cavities! hurrah!) I’ve been working on putting together a garden/orchard/animals calendar.  Starting with the last one first (why not?) we are seriously rethinking our meat bird breed.  The Freedom Rangers are supposed to be great, but there is only one hatchery all the way across the country and so they end up being awfully expensive–about three dollars per bird at the scale we are planning.  As much as I want to get away from grocery store meat, we’d only have to out $3.50 worth of feed into their beaks and they would cost more than a whole bird from the store and suddenly my cheap side gets up in arms….  I’ve seen a couple estimates that it takes closer to 16 weeks to reach the 4-5 lb mark for them, so we would likely be well in excess of $3.50.  I’m also not totally clear on reproductive issues.  Will they breed true?  Will the mommas get broody and follow through on caring for chicks if we want to uncouple from buying birds every year?  I’d done a little bit of looking at other breeds and had written down Delawares as another possibility, but my initial research had been financially shocking.  I guess that not many people raise them and they are therefore considered a rare breed in the US, and they have a price point to match, of course…UNTIL I found this hatchery in Texas.  They sell Delaware males only very inexpensively (which is great because the males bulk up faster) and their shipping is about 1/5-1/3 of what I was seeing other places.  Further research revealed that Delawares were the meat bird of choice back before people started raising Cornish crosses, that they are good and consistent layers, make good mothers and gentle roosters and, as a bonus, if you cross a Delaware hen with a Rhode Island Red rooster you get Red Sex-Links which are supposed to be champion-grade layers.  They are also supposed to reach a good weight within about 9-10 weeks.  Looking at a slaughter date of the second week of October or so, we’d probably bring them in end of July-ish…the forage will be minimal, but so will be their supplemental heat needs…we may actually need to put thought into cooling…   Anyhow, Delawares are “pencilled-in” for this year.  We’ll probably get a couple of hens and see how we like them as layers and then maybe experiment with breeding our own….

A Delaware Hen

A Delaware Hen

I am slightly kicking myself for not handling our abundance or milk last year in a more reasonable way.  With exorbitant butter prices, store cheese that I can’t eat and un-thrilling milk substitutes during these dry months, I am realizing that I really need a plan.  I only slightly kick myself because it was all so new and crazy busy that I really didn’t even have time to think, I just made batch after batch after (delicious) batch of custard so that it would all get eaten before it spoiled.  So I’ve got to figure out our dairy needs for the year and plan on how to meet them.  It will be nice this fall just to be able to breed them when it will best fit our needs, rather than having to figure out kidding in relation to the birth of a human baby.  No offense, baby…

The gardening situation here is still really confusing to me.  My initial research put us in zone 8a, but now I have some 9s coming up as well.  Our stunning lack of success in growing anything during the summer months is making me wonder if we need to just skip the heat and grow in the fall, winter and spring.  I keep having expert-sorts tell me that we should be fine, but my eyes tell me that no matter how much water we give them, my plants hibernate all summer long and won’t grow again until things cool down.  I saw a couple of youtube videos by a guy in Dallas.  He talked about using shade cloth to extend his growing season…I kind of think that’s where we’re at…

The orchard research has been fun.  I’m reading a book by a long-time orchardist who has figured out ways to boost the health and productivity of his orchard mainly using primarily materials and means he can produce himself.  I have to say that after living in Georgia for a little bit and coming face-to-face with the rampant fungal and insect issues one deals with there, I am a bit less opposed to using various control methods.  That said, I really like the idea of being able to care for the orchard without having to purchase chemical and mineral sprays.  It’s like herbs vs. other methods of dealing with human illness–the other ways may work as well, but I sure like being able to cook up what I need in my own garden and kitchen!

And I’m thinking that next year is going to be our berry-planting year.  The orchard should be bubbling away, we’ll have our first meat bird experience under our belts.  Time to start having some actual fruit roll in.

BTW, we were very grateful for receive a little over 7″ of rain the second week of February.  That got us started, but we are still in serious drought conditions.  We need another 15″ or so just to meet our needs for this year and that doesn’t even touch our backlog for the past five years.  We are still praying and appreciate the prayers of others.

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Is there anything more wonderful than waking up to the sound of rain?  Or going to sleep to the sound of rain?  Or watching rain fall hour after hour?  Or startled chickens peering out at the rain from underneath their coop?  Or dozey goats lifting an eyelid to see if it’s still raining? (it is!)  The kids announce at intervals that the water is starting to puddle, that the front yard is awash, that they are just sure they can tell that the water in the pond is rising, and I just saw slow flapping white wings that may indicate that the Great Egret that used to visit our pond has not entirely forgotten us.

We are so very, very grateful.

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Stocking the Pantry with Apples

Well, we took advantage of the great deal on apples and have now processed (dried, sauced and buttered) all but the last 40 of our 240 lbs into the pantry.  I feel good about having taken advantage of the blessing as it was available.  It was a few more-than-usual tired and sore days, but the kids were an amazing help and now we have apples in storage.  Hurray!  I went ahead and looked at our chill hours thus far (wunderground has a calculator) and it’s not looking good for Golden Delicious (and other higher-chill) apples, Bartlett pears, or any of the stone crops except for plums.  We had a cool front move in this week, so maybe that will help, but with days in the 50s and nights in the 20s and 30s, it seems like it’s going to take a bunch of days to make up the couple hundred hours we still need between freezing and 45…

Just in case anyone had forgotten, we are still completely reliant upon God.  We have not advanced ourselves beyond the point of needing Him.

The boys and my husband went ahead and planted our six replacement trees and four new fig trees and two pomegranates.  I am reading about pruning and orchard care, now that we’ve gotten past the first year on at least half the orchard, but it’s so hard to read but not be doing…things don’t stick as well as when I can dash right out and look and do.  Two and a half months until I’m on the road toward dashing again some day.  I hope that at some point this stuff will all be second nature to me.  Right now it’s still very opaque.

I am uncertain what to do about the garden this year as well.  I really don’t want to till and take on the problems associated with that.  If I’d been halfway well (and known about it in time!) I would have planted winter-killed root crops to loosen and fertilize the soil, but I wasn’t and didn’t.  I wish I were in a position to be able to plant gobs of tomatoes and put them up this summer, but I’m not and I won’t be.  We still need to get our soil tests and buy minerals as well.  This whole not running faster than you have strength commandment is so challenging to get right with the be not weary in well-doing commandment!

We’ve gotten a few little rainshowers.  I don’t think we’re up to an inch yet and we would need to get 10″ both this month and next to reach our average.  We have several little 10% and 20% chance of rain days ahead this week.  Keep praying!