Consecration Acres

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

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Home Stretch

We awoke to rain and cloudy skies this (Saturday) morning. Fabulously welcome. My sister and her family are here visiting right now and I wish I could show her everything as it looked when we first moved here—green, with pond, etc. Having visitors come here and see our land in October is kind of like having company come when the house is a mess (which it is as well *sigh*), I find myself tempted either to apologize or complain. Oh well, hopefully this more normal onset to the rainy season portends good and soggy things for the upcoming months. Elijah has been reading a book on rainwater collection via earthworks (probably not the correct term) and is talking about building berms, check-dams on our seasonal creek and the like. As we still have not decided on a roof catchment approach, I welcome his experimentation.

The herbs class I co-taught last week went fairly well. We were really pressed for time and I wanted to focus on doing rather than talking, so I clipped my introductory remarks down in a rather haphazard way and left out essential info that I wanted to be sure to pass on…oh, well. It is my hope that they will all go home and educate themselves and not just rely on what they heard that night. In the weeks preceding the event I was doing a lot of reading to prepare and came across many new-to-me herbs. Uncannily, I got to try out a number of them shortly after I read as various members of the family developed an unexplained fever, exhibited extreme nervous tension, got an ear infection and an inflamed eyelid. All were quickly and successfully resolved and I have some new remedies in my back pocket, but I was a little concerned there for a bit that I would miss the class due to family illness.

We enter our meat birds’ last week on the Acres. One way or the other, they have got to go. My husband has taken some time off of work, rains are in the forecast next weekend–it is time to wrap this project up. I went ahead and ordered a couple of killing cones and the drill-powered chicken plucker and the outdoor sink and faucet are on their way. It may seem like I’ve said this before, but next time I write I should have a report on the butchering.

While my sister and family were here, we wanted to turn the last of this batch of apples into applesauce. The splendiferous magic of a machine that turns apples into applesauce is a nearly unbearable draw for kids and we had them all lined up and taking turns at the Victorio handle for the first 2/3rds of the project. We sent them away to wait for more apples to finish cooking and after they were ready, only my 3-year-old nephew returned. He was very happy to finish the batch for us. Now I know who to call when I am processing apples by the bushel.

Today I have to put in my last order for the bulk food co-op we’ve been a part of. It has been a nice luxury to be able to build up a little at a time and replace monthly as we use things up. Now I will have to be more clumpy about my purchasing and more deliberate in my inventorying, planning and record-keeping. I’m also sad to lose the best price I’ve found on canning jars. I’ve also been building that supply slowly. Now I have to step through the whole thing mentally and stare that expense square in the eye. This is just a lot of people to feed and it requires some substantial outlays of work and funds along the way.

I need to get in touch this week with our nursery and see whether they have what I want on the rootstocks I want. We’ve also got to decide whether we are putting in citrus trees this year and how many berries we are going to start with. The deadline for pre-order is Nov 1.

And I need to spend some time scheduling and planning care and maintenance tasks for plants and animals around our place. We have been on the minimal care track for long enough and it’s time to do a bit better. I am feeling like it is only by Grace that we have not had poor health and/or losses around here. Our stewardship could be much improved.

I baked bread from the sourdough starter for the first time on Friday. The rising was extremely slow and it never really got good loft. I finally just stuck it in the oven, but I couldn’t remember what temperature it was supposed to bake to so I stopped it at 200F—it should have gone to 205F. Anyhow, not a great sourdough, but it held beginnings and promises. In the interest of science and excellent bread, I’ll make Sourdough Observations a regular section for a while. Observations for this week: as my house cools off, the sourdough is less active and may need a little boosting, such as more frequent feedings and some supplemental heat during the rise. I may want to dampen the cloth I throw over it to rise as the top was pretty crusty when I went to form it. Also, I miss my thermometer with the probe that could be left in the oven and my Kitchen Aid still sounds scary even after I fixed (?) it, but I LOVE my cast iron bread pans. It’s always such a joy to use good tools and equipment.

Onward we go.

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That is what we woke up to Friday morning—seven dead chickens and the rest of the flock unsettled and a bit blood-bespattered. It is always amazing at how little space nasty things require to get in and destroy. It took a while to find the hole, but whatever it was shifted an insufficiently heavy piece of wood out of the way and dug a 4” hole under the edge, killed birds and then left without eating them. We are thinking perhaps a weasel. My husband and the boys cleaned out the last stall, netted it, bordered it with chicken wire to prevent similar attacks and shifted over the waterer and the birds. While they were at it, we weighed the chickens and, miraculously, they have still not put on any weight despite their voracious appetites. Maybe they need my kids to go out there and show them how it’s done. Now watch, birdies—eat food, grow enormous, require new clothing! Maybe not the last part. I think we’re just going to call it for the last week of October and just eat them small if that’s the best we can do. Lack of animal forage/pasture/infrastructure/bodily strength strikes again… Anyhow, so far so good in their new spot. Odd thing, though, the boys counted them as they moved them over and found that we still have 50 roos. I’m not sure how that math works out with all the losses. Oh well, more little teeny chickens to put into the freezer.

In other rooster news, our volunteer rooster spent a night out in the wild and survived. He also lives entirely without chicken feed as he bunks with the goats and the boys couldn’t figure out how to feed him without feeding them as well. Sounds rather like HE should be the basis of our breeding program. Unfortunately, he is a bantam, but perhaps predator-proof, teeny chickens who live on air would be a couple steps in the right direction.

We have peas galore coming up! A couple of years ago I went through and figured out how many of everything we’d need to grow to keep us in it for a year. Peas worked out to between 200 and 400 plants. I don’t know if we have quite that many, but at least 50…planted VERY thickly because we didn’t know whether they’d germinate and so we’ll either be doing some transplanting or we’ll be supplementing our chickens with some pea sprouts. Now that we’ve got them growing we also need to start thinking about supporting them. Elijah has this wild and wooly branch trellis he built and occasionally adds on to for his cucumbers. As happy as it makes me to see that, I think we are going to go a little more industrial/modular for the peas. I have a design I am wanting to try.

I went out and threw some netting over the tomatoes. I saw some professional-grade bird netting in a video review this week. I thought about it the whole time I was trying to position and maneuver that plastic stuff around. You get what you pay for.

I also scratched the rest of the lettuce seed into the ground.  I’m not expecting much but we’ll see what happens.

My husband and I are looking into to trying out the Mittleider gardening techniques at least for root vegetables this year. The yields are pretty darn impressive and, for what I understand, the techniques were developed in and for climates similar to ours. Besides that, we go out into the planned garden area and all that rock is incredibly daunting. And if we managed to get it out, is there even soil underneath? And how long before we could get it clear enough and light enough to be able to grow root veges? We’re still talking and I’m waiting on a book, but I am feeling inclined to start producing food in measurable quantities and this seems like s way we could do it.

I finally mapped the orchard! I’ve only been meaning to do that for the last nearly two years. Now I know exactly what we have and what’s doing well and what’s not. I know, for instance that we have a peach and a nectarine each on Lovell root stock that are struggling, while those on St Julian and Nemared are doing great. I also know that the cherries, both on Colt, are not doing terribly well. Today’s research revealed that there’s really not a great rootstock for our area and since cherry chill hours make them a long shot anyways, maybe we shouldn’t invest too much into this until they come up with something better. It looks like 2 out 4 figs have not survived the blistering summer—making me think that our nursery changing their guarantee from 12 months to 6 months was really more like getting rid of the guarantee since it’s over before it starts to get hot. Oh, well. The pomegranates are great, the apricot has a ton of suckers (Myro 29c) and a bad lean, the pears are gorgeous and graceful (on the ever-poetic OHXF333), the plums and pluots (also on Myro29c) are off and running and the apples (all on M111) are a joy to behold. They all need feeding, mulching and pruning, but it’s so great to go out and grip a sturdy little well-anchored trunk and finally be able to anticipate.

The sourdough has gotten through the stinky-cheese phase and I’m going to see if I can bake with it for the first time tomorrow. I am pleased at how quickly it’s progressed. Jordan was helping me the first couple of days, but hated the smell and now I can’t entice her back—maybe once we bake with it. In case I ever have to do this again I am going to briefly record my process: Combine 4 oz of spelt flour with 4 oz of water in a half gallon mason jar and mix well. Cover (I have used a loose plastic lid, this time I am using a rubber-banded cloth napkin) and set aside. After twelve hours, add another 4 oz of spelt flour and 4 oz of water, mix and re-cover. Repeat forever and ever. I remember from last year that to slow down the culture I could add a little less water to make it drier. This was helpful on very hot days where I’d otherwise have to feed it four times daily to keep hooch from forming on top. I’m also not a stickler for pouring off most of the starter every time I feed it. Again, if I’m getting a lot of hooch or if it’s overly sour then I know I need to use or discard a bunch of starter to get it back on track, otherwise I don’t worry about it too much. I sure wish I’d done better record-keeping last year. I have no idea where my favorite sourdough bread recipe is or where it originated!

I have been preparing to co-teach a basic herbal medicine class at church this Tuesday. The interest has been much more than we anticipated (as in 3x) and I think I bit off far more than I should have tried to chew. Trying to cram five different herbal preparations into 1 ½ hours will require a rigid timetable, flawless execution and a little bit of luck. One preparation requires decocting (not quite boiling, more “evaporating”) an infusion (a strong tea) down to half the original volume. I am counting on it taking less than an hour and I need to do a couple of time trials on it tomorrow. This is bringing back memories of my Senior show in art school when one piece required water to boil and a teakettle to whistle at precisely the right moment (it would be a long story) which, of course, it did in rehearsals and did not during the actual show…I am feeling my fate hinge-ing on a watched pot again.

This has actually been a pretty hard week. Isaiah had minor surgery to correct a lip-tie and he’s been pretty down physically and emotionally and the animal stuff slides and the house stuff slides and we still have un-bred goats and un-fattened chickens being killed by predators and the test plots have officially failed (how are we supposed to try to grow anything on that scale during the DRIEST month of the year? We will try re-sowing when the rains finally start and all the other grasses are growing) and I’ve been wondering about continuing to try to do so much animal stuff, or whether it would be wise to shift our limited energies and resources more toward the vegetable-growing side of things. Animal time requirements, infrastructure, inputs, etc are so much more substantial than vegetation’s. I don’t know. As I get stronger, it seems like I could take care of a lot of the garden work as it is not as time-sensitive as the animal work, but there’s still all the normal house stuff (meals, cleaning, repairs and maintenance), plus substantial food preserving that needs to be done and a still-a-baby and five other kids to care for. It’s hard to see how to make it all work right now. It’s difficult to know when to push on and when to alter course. I’m trying to remember that this is His land, His resources and His time and I am praying that His will concerning it all will be clear.

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Rank beginners

It’s been a Sargeant Schulz, John Worthing kind of a week.  And while Lady Bracknell might not approve of anything which tampers with natural ignorance, I am ready to have mine tampered with!  I guess that’s why we continue on…

Ella was acting up on Thursday, kicking over milk buckets and the like, and we suspected that she was in heat.  My husband ran over to our neighbor to get the buck rag, finally, and she responded by following the blasted thing all over the place.  So we took her over to an actual buck.  Nope.  Apparently, she just likes old smelly socks.  Perhaps if we can’t  get her bred for next year’s milk production, we can just have her do our laundry to earn her keep.

Secondly, I am wondering if the non-appearing seeds issue is not a hot/dry/old thing but yet another vermin issue.  I went out Monday and noticed a ripening tomato.  On Wednesday there was just a tatter of skin left.  Elijah insisted that they are just not ripening, but a week of sunny 90s makes that seem unlikely.  Jackrabbits?  Gophers?  Mice?  Birds?  I neglected to consider the unbearable draw of a patch of green during the dead-tan of October and I would not be surprised if our seedlings were being gobbled as soon as they dared peek above-ground.  Time to try netting.  We’ll see if the peas, garlic and additional beets and chard we put in this week have already been eaten.  Gardening occasionally feels like a dance with a rather malicious partner who is constantly trying to step on your toes.  Sigh.

Thirdly, we discovered that the chickens are all feathers.  On Monday we went out to select our first batch, grabbed a big one, stuck it in a box on our kitchen scale and….a whopping three and a half pounds.  This translates into a little over two and a half pounds dressed weight.  Standard rotisserie birds are about four pounds.  I would really like to get them all out foraging for bugs, etc but it is still beyond me to strap Joseph to my back and do anything as vigorous and involved as setting up an electric fence.  Trying to raise meat birds while disabled leaves much to be desired.  I guess we’ll just continue to buy food and hope it will go quickly onto them as meat.  We really need to be done with this project by month’s end.

We finally moved the washer out onto the back deck and just started washing clothes out there.  The replacement water pump was being held hostage by the post office somewhere mid-country and hand-washing the laundry had ceased to be a novelty.  The washer only leaks about a quart of water per spin cycle, but that’s too much to take care of with a towel on the floor.  Seeing the washwater draining over the side of the deck makes me want to figure out some way to use our greywater, but I worry about soaps and detergents further alkalinizing our soil.  Maybe I need another book.

I made Indian Butter Chicken this week and we opened a jar of peach chutney to accompany it.  We decided that chutney is a great way to use up fruit that is threatening to go boozy and that we need to make it in quarts rather than pints.  I remember the days of canning half-pints of things….off in the rosy mists…  Anyhow, we liked it enough that we may even go to the hassle of peeling pears to make chutney from them.

I did another batch of dill pickles. I seem to be a chronic over-estimator of weight these days and didn’t really even have enough for half a batch–and I can’t even blame it on feathers in this case.  I’m also getting confused over the brining.  They are a two-day dill and the first day (12-18 hours) you are to soak them in brine–dissolve a certain amount of salt in four cups of water, pour it over the cukes and then add enough water to cover.  The first time I dissolved half the salt in half the water and added water to cover and the second I dissolved all the salt in all the water and added water to cover.  I need to break open a jar from the salty batch, see if they are salvageable and then take the time to write out the recipe for about 4 lbs of cukes as that seems to be our weekly yield.

I also put a couple batches of pears into the dehydrator.  The Bartletts have been pretty bland this year, but they are fine dried (chutneyed too, I hope) and I really need to finish them up before they start getting mushy.  We are awaiting the appearance of El Dorado pears.  They are a little better suited to the type of weather we had this year, but they have to spend time after harvest in cold storage.  Hopefully, they’ll make for nicer fresh eating.

With the mid-week pear cores I started a small-ish batch of fruit scrap vinegar.  The recipe said I could add to it later on and I did so today.  It is already good and smelly.  I started a batch of vinegar last year a couple weeks before I found out I was pregnant.  My hyper-sensitive nose and stomach decided I could not handle the continuation of that experiment.  I often wonder how exactly people decided to try eating certain foods.  I think the threat of starvation was behind much of it.

I also just ground some spelt flour and started a new batch of sourdough.  We had great success with this last Spring and Summer and hope that we can get there again.  Once you’ve had really good sourdough, it tends to call your name.  I am trying not to spend too much time thinking about eating homemade sourdough with homemade butter…  currently failing…

And it is the time of year for clothing evaluation and purchases.  I find this one of my least favorite activities–the money, the low-quality clothing available, the decisions, bringing all the clothing out, packing it all away again, the enormousness and never-endingness of it all and so I have decided to make Bethel my right-hand gal in this.  I am hoping that her fresh brain and eyes will help me to get it in order.  I find that sometimes when I look at the kids’ clothes, I see what they were and not what they currently are–fading, wear and even small stains go unnoticed…typically until we go out in public and I realize that they look like this…or maybe not even that good.  I am looking forward to the help, hoping a grown-up project to work on together will be a good thing and I am intending to train her a bit in budgeting.

I was lying in bed nursing Joseph this morning with a blanket pulled up over my top shoulder (I like to pretend that it is Autumn by leaving the evaporative cooler on all night…mmmm, chilly), keeping me warm, but leaving his face clear so he could breathe easily.  My aunt made the blanket for me when my husband and I were married.  I got pregnant five weeks into our marriage and was utterly blind-sided by morning sickness and exhaustion.  I drove him to work those early months and on the days that I didn’t have to work, I’d come home, lie down on the couch, pull that blanket up over me and sleep for as long as I could, as sleeping was the only time I didn’t have to deal with that horrible nausea.  When Elijah was born I wrapped him up in it, as I have each and every one of my babies, and I used it to keep my top shoulder warm while nursing in bed with each of them, just as I did this morning.  After nearly sixteen years of accompanying me on my mothering journey, it’s a little worse for the wear, but it still serves its purpose.

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Take Two

[Most of this was written on Saturday.]

We were instructed in General Conference today not to make our online lives appear too glossy. I find some counsel is easy to keep right now, such as having a messy house but keeping up with gospel study (“It is OK if the house is a mess and the children are still in their pajamas and some responsibilities are left undone. The only things that really need to be accomplished in the home are daily scripture study and prayer and weekly family home evening.”) or that if the members of the Church knew how important food storage was they would keep it in their living rooms (I FINALLY got the boys to take 16 buckets of various types of food out of the living room today—it tends to migrate in and never leave (and I’m still looking for that reference…if anyone knows what it is, please share!)) and perusing my last couple of posts I can’t believe I could ever be accused of gloss. Messy house, check! Food storage in living room, check! Non-gloss, check! I’m on a roll…

I spoke too soon on the illness thing. Joseph’s congestion and sleeplessness persisted and then Grace caught it on Monday and that night and evening was up screaming with an ear infection. Fortunately, I found a remedy that worked really quickly for her, but I’ve been struggling healthwise all week from so many nights without sleep. Add to that the fact that the washing machine is still broken (that was not the right part after all) and so I’ve been doing some laundry shuttling (to a very kind neighbor who has allowed us to use her washer) and then had peppers, cucumbers, peaches and an extra couple of gallons of milk to deal with on top of the usual stuff…and then I’m just so tired of the couch that it’s hard to rest even when I’m tired and sick. Conference has given me a good reason to rest today and tomorrow is the Sabbath so maybe by Monday I’ll feel better.

Preserving in the kitchen is going fine. I did 3 ½ quarts of dill pickles this week, 2 pints of sweet pickled peppers (leading to an impromptu one-up Peter Piper based tongue-twister competition with the kids, as in “Peter Piper’s papa picked a proper peck of pickled purple peppers” etc) and 5 pints of peach chutney. I’m going to need to buy more vinegar! Pickling is both fun and really odd as the process is not complete until after the jars are sealed and so there is no tasting to decide whether you actually want to go through with it. The cheap part of me is really glad I have lids that I can re-use in case I create things inedible… And speaking of lids, I have actually broken into packages that I have never used before, which means my production is actually ahead of our consumption! Amazing!

My mozzarella sat too long after I added the rennet, “clean break” was a distant memory by the time I got back to it, but as long as it is cheese-ish, my family doesn’t seem to care. We only used half of the last batch in quiche, but it is all gone now. We must have mice…who can open refrigerator doors…

Our neighbor goat-lady came out to check on Ella’s tattoo (registered dairy goats are tattooed in their ears or tail webbing for identification purposes) and it turns out that hers was a duplicate and they’ll need to add a digit to make her distinct and registerable. After she checked up on the boys’ hoof-trimming skills we sent her home with an old sock in a jar to turn into a buck rag. Our abilities to detect goats in heat are pretty awful without this aid, we’ve got to do better. I am still having nightmarish visions of driving these silly goats back and forth in the car.

I am worrying a bit about our fall garden. We do have a few sprouts, but we seem to have far more grass and weeds. I knew it was a risk as old as the seeds were, but it’s still a bit disappointing. I’m kind of inclined just to stick the rest of them in the ground, late or not, and just see what happens. Last year we still had warm-weather crops hanging in till December. It didn’t quite compensate for the lack of rain and chill hours, but it was something, and it would mean we’d start out with a fresher slate seed-wise next year. I also wonder if soil temperatures have anything to do with it—we have been awfully warm for cool-season baby plants. Maybe we’ll need shade cloth even to get the fall garden to work and not just to keep things from going dormant in the summer. I’m hoping to get our peas in ASAP and I’m considering getting some grocery store garlic and planting that as well. We’ll see if we get to any of this additional planting or if we’ll just have a sparse harvest of what we already have in. If I could only make things happen by typing them out.

Regarding the future of the garden, I am reading more on year-round gardening. The author does a lot of succession planting which substantially breaks up the work of planting and harvesting. This appeals to me in the same way that small-batch canning does: the work is in small enough bursts that I can pretend that I’m not actually doing it! Heaven knows I cannot block off an entire day to plant, but I can snag twenty minutes here and there to put in the next small set of whatever needs planting. He says it also helps mitigate disappointment when things don’t take—shrug it off and just put in whatever is next on the list. I am also thinking that maybe we could try just growing on either side of the heat, let the garden rest or grow cover crops and just deal with in-season fruit during the miserable months.

And the time has come for the chickens—the first lucky half dozen have their date with destiny this Tuesday. We need to clear out a fridge to chill them before tucking them into the freezer and get ahold of a killing cone and some well-sharpened knives. It’s amazing how quickly we got here and how much is not yet ready because we never really decided how we were going to approach certain things… At some point we’ll have this all down, but probably not this week. My husband asked yesterday how much we had spent on feed. I told him I wasn’t even really keeping track of that this year. We never got them out to forage and we switched them over to broiler pellets late. I could figure it out but it would probably depress me. This is our introductory year to Raising Chickens for Meat. We’ll improve on our methods and do a thorough cost analysis when we do it next time. For now we’ll just be happy if we can see this thing through to edible chicken meat.

My husband went through and weed-whacked what was left in the future garden area and orchard. We can see better the area where we are hoping to put the grapes and berries in. I am trying to contain my excitement. I am badly missing Oregon berries.

I may have found a place to order little, inexpensive trees. Yes, it’s lovely to start with 6’ or more, but you sure pay for it. If you only want 2 or 3, then that is fine, but as we look at wood lot and shade tree purchases, saving 90% is appealing.