Consecration Acres

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


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Of birds, cranberries and things in the pantry

It has been quite the last couple of weeks. We have been dealing with nearly perpetual illness, most recently something flu-ish that I’m dealing with today. Nothing has lasted very long, but days sick multiplied by the number of people who have to catch it, means that we have had only a couple days in the last month when everyone was completely well. Is complete wellness just something one has to give up on with a big family—like leftovers and the laundry or dishes ever being completely done?

On Friday, my husband and Isaiah butchered 15 of the meat birds. Elijah started off helping, but started showing symptoms of this latest illness and had to stop. The process went a bit more smoothly than and the birds were definitely bigger—they appeared close to grocery bird weight, though I have yet to weigh one. My husband wanted to try cooking one up for dinner, so they heated up a dutch oven and worked as quickly as they could to get it cooking before rigor mortis set in. They did pretty well. It was a little rubbery, but far from inedible. In fact, it tasted very much like…chicken. So, we’ve done it—eaten our first home-grown meat! What a project…and not yet done…20 more to go… And the birds were 20 weeks old. I imagine we can improve on our time and feed requirements.

BTW, the chickens loved their expanded run a la electric poultry netting and we had no more issues with predation after the boys set it up. Unfortunately, some of the birds figured out how to flap over the fence and did so regularly, much to Isaiah’s dismay. As the only one who could catch the escapees, he was hard at it for a couple of days there. He has voted to clip wings if we end up doing this again.

I’m also thinking that the hens in that flock should be laying by now. Are their eggs being eaten? Have we created another (egg-eating) monster? This does seem to be the year for monsters.

To make room for chickens, I’ve been working to clear out the freezer (yes, our new, nearly 15 cubic ft freezer was well on its way to being too full for the chickens) and have cooked up the last of last year’s turkeys and a ham. Some cooked meat and stock went back in again, but the volume is greatly reduced. I tried making ham stock for the first time. It is very strong, but I think a little will be a good addition to potato or split pea soup.

I also went ahead a canned up 20 lbs of cranberries to prevent their using valuable freezer space`. My yield was about 3 pints per 2 lb package, which means that when it all comes crashing down, we’ll be eating cranberries. One can survive anything with enough cranberries. I had another bag that I mixed into some apple butter yesterday. After it reduces, I’ll add cinnamon and star anise. Even as unwell as I’m feeling right now, my heart skips a beat at the thought.

The sourdough continues fabulously. For the sake of keeping notes:

  • It does best rising in quite a warm environment. My oven with the light on (around 105F) is perfect.
  • That much heat will dry it out during three-ish hours of rise time. Cover with a damp cloth.
  • I let it rise for just half an hour plus the oven preheating time once it’s in the bread pans. It doesn’t gain much notable loft during that time, but I have found that the oven rise is quite good with this recipe.
  • My children are funny. I found a single slice of bread, carefully wrapped in plastic wrap, hidden in the pantry last week. I ate it, of course. Wouldn’t want it to go to waste if the hider forgot about it… I also have competition for the heels now that Elijah’s discovered that the crust is the most flavorful part of the bread. Wow. He must really be approaching adulthood.

The panty moths are horrible again, but they seem not to have re-invaded the drawer where I used diatomaceous earth. I hope that this is a good sign. The information I’ve found on eliminating pantry moths has been pretty ridiculously involved and likely impossible with a whole bunch of kids leaving things open and hiding sourdough bread. If I could just use DE, pheromone traps and a reasonable amount of cleaning. I would be pretty happy. I am really tired of moths.

Finally, the question on everyone’s lips, are the goats bred? We don’t know and we really need find out as December is our last shot at it. I am calling the vet this week. I need to factor veterinary ultrasounds into my “should we keep a buck?” comparative cost analysis.

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A brief report

We keep having overly busy weekends that don’t allow for chunks of time to write. And I know that some people dread Monday mornings, but I usually wake up energized, optimistic and ready to go at the whole thing again and not in the mood to sit or reflect on the past week. I am only posting now courtesy of Grace—Joseph is napping and she has insisted upon a lap and not a mother running about, determined to get it all done this week.

Grace was incredibly sick last week. She awoke Sunday morning with a fever, no appetite and very lethargic, but we couldn’t figure out exactly what was wrong as she has a tendency not to answer questions or volunteer information. I kept her hydrated, gave her stuff to try to improve her immune response and kept her hydrated with an herbal tea she liked, but it wasn’t until that evening, when she was lying with her head on my lap, that I happened to look in her ear and see evidence that her eardrum had ruptured. Poor thing. She was still in pretty bad shape until Tuesday and even since then she consistently runs out of steam by afternoon, which means that we’ve been watching a lot of movies to keep her mind off her sorows. She appears to have lost some hearing–enough that I have to raise my voice to get her attention and enunciate once I’ve got it. I have been reassured that it is almost certainly temporary, but it is still distressing and I look forward to a return to normal.

In barnyard news…we are drowning in eggs. The mystery birds are all laying consistently and their eggs have grown nearly to normal (grocery store large) size. It seems always to be drought or deluge with this. The whole steady food supply thing is strictly the result of industrialized food production.

Penny came back smelling so buck-ey that we threw away her milk for two full days.  Her buck avoidance may just have been for show.  We are certainly hoping so!

And…we have meat birds getting killed again…not by us. Isaiah is outside trying to beat the sunset, working to get the electric fence set up. Hopefully, it all goes well. These birds get increasingly pricey.

The kids insist that we had frost on our deck this morning and Elijah reports that people scraped ice off their windshields in town. The weather report and my weather monitor both say we were in the 40s. I don’t know what to make of this.  I never got outside to check on the remains of the summer garden…

Kitchen work has gone pretty well this week. The kids and I canned a couple more boxes of applesauce, a few jars of pear and apple butter and dehydrated pears and tomatoes. The sourdough is also fantastic. I can’t believe how much bread we eat when it tastes that good. I am ready for wheat prices to drop again!

I am also ready for a healthy family and a productive week.  Here’s hoping!

 


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“And having food and raiment…

…let us be therewith content.” I don’t know that this was exactly what Paul had in mind, but there’s a blog I read where the mom uses that verse to prioritize demands on her time and to measure her success. Children fed? Check! Children clothed? Check! There are times when everything else is just bonus.

Bethel and I have been tackling the family clothing this week. I think it has been good, thus far. I think she’s getting a better appreciation for the financial side of it, as we made all the children’s clothing purchases this week. She appeared rather shocked.  All I can say is, thank goodness that some things survive to be handed down! This next week we need to sort and store/eliminate the off-sized stuff. One of these days we will perhaps take on my closet. Ugh.

As we go through it all and have to make purchases, I am making a concerted effort to purchase things that will survive to be handed on. Some brands seem to be pretty consistently garbage by the end of six months, while others make it into the blue bins. I think where it gets tricky is when I find options that are supposed to last forever—socks, boots, pants that are supposed to last for decades—and when I break down the costs by that many years then they really could be an excellent deal, as long as they were not lost and no one grew! I want a calculator where I could punch in all my variables and I could get personalized recommendations based on all my various factors. For instance, last year’s recommendation for Elijah might have read, “It appears that your child has hit his adolescent growth spurt. We have taken into account his age and parents’ heights, his daily activities, his regular Scouting camp-outs and youth activity attendance, the presence of blackberry bushes and other scrubby plants on your property and have noted the existence of two younger brothers, suggesting a combined total desired wear time of 9-14 months, allowing for moderate growth spurt variation. All factors considered, we recommend purchasing….” I would pay for such a service.

Once we get all the clothing figured out, we’ll need to figure out its storage. Benjamin Franklin said that “three [re]moves are as good as a house fire” and we have found this to be true with our furniture. I think of how new they are and it makes me rather ill, but they are just not functioning any more and our repair attempts have proved futile (particle board by any other name is still rotten stuff—making furnishings out of sawdust may seem eco-friendly, but my experience is that it merely delays its trip to the landfill and leaves much aggravation in its wake). I wish I were up to building right now as I have a design I’d like to try. Oh well. We’ll see what we can do on craigslist and thrift stores.

While hunting for dressers I am also looking for a new dining table. Our table (which was also broken in moving, but successfully repaired—solid pine, thank you) has fit ok into our dining area, but is always difficult to get around when we install the extra leaf for company. Now that we have a small person needing to graduate from the high chair (slightly overdue… *ahem*) we’ve got to figure this out. If our current table were just a little narrower, rectangular rather than oval, and then if we had two long benches on the sides then I think that would do it. Again, if I were up to it, I’d get out my circular saw, purchase some plywood and just make a new top to fit over what we’ve got. And then I’d whip up some benches out of 2x6s. Anyhow… it is rather difficult to find large tables, unless, of course, one is shopping at amishtables.com where one can purchase a table with thirteen leaves! The wonders of internet shopping.

I am afraid we are proving no match for our goats. Penny is over at our neighbor’s avoiding the buck like the plague. I was really hoping to be able to milk them up until two months before they kidded, but drying up and boarding with the buck is looking more like the reality of our situation. How does the cost of keeping a buck relate to keeping two dry does for an additional three months? If they eat the same amount, it sounds like we’d need to get to four before we’d break even. There’s just no easy way to do this, huh?

As for successes this week, we have some lovely sourdough bread in the kitchen. The day before, I dumped a bunch of the culture and fed what was left rather heavily. To the bread mixture I added some baking soda (1 tsp per loaf), did two shorter rises rather than one long and baked it at 375F rather than 350F. The result was a lovely browned crust and some actual loft! We sawed up and ate all the greyish bricks I’ve been making because they still tasted good, but Bethel commented that this was almost like normal bread. Yes, indeed. Now to make a batch of homemade butter.

And Isaiah finally got tired of waiting for me to drive the project and installed the new water pump in the washing machine. It works perfectly! So now we need to get it moved back into the laundry room. I am trying to convince my husband that we should move the dryer out of there (it’s too expensive to run at our electric rates out here) so we can have space to keep everyone’s shoes by the door. He’s not entirely sold on the idea yet, but I’d really like to be able to get into the fridge and broom closet without tripping on shoes and I don’t care to keep a giant metal box around just to match the other giant metal box.

And a follow-up note on the orchard. Upon closer inspection, the peach and nectarine on Lovell rootstock yielded an odd surprise. The tree above the graft is not doing well in either case, but when Elijah and I were doing a little weeding out there, we found loads of water sprouts coming from those rootstocks. The reason I hadn’t noticed them before was that they had grown low through the mulch and popped out on the far edge. So the strength of the rootstock has overwhelmed the strength of the grafted branches. (This sounds vaguely scriptural.)  Does this simply mean that they were poorly matched for vigor or do we have other things going on?  This makes me want to order some scion wood and try my hand at grafting something in there, as it appears I have nothing to lose. As always, there is much to learn and try and limited hours and energy, so that I must learn, above all, to make wise decisions.


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A very late post

I am very late getting last week’s post up. Between chickens, getting this month’s newsletter edited and posted, a sick non-sleeping baby and then election day AND jury duty which I had forgotten about Monday (they excused me for being a nursing momma, even though I had neglected to send in the form on time) there hasn’t been much left for anything else. I have felt a bit like a chicken with it’s head…well…

Speaking of…they did not all meet their fate on Saturday, but the first nine did, including our old layers. My husband and the boys spent the morning setting up. Our friend and his son came over around lunch time and got them started. They called me out to look at the first two after they had been de-feathered. It is rather funny, but I was pleasantly surprised at how chicken-ish (as opposed to sparrow-ish) they looked, but our friend convinced us to wait on the bulk of the flock. And so they are on “full feed”, meaning that they have ‘round the clock access to as much food as they can eat (this was my intention with the feeder design I planned, but the issues we encountered were never resolved and so Elijah had just been feeding twice daily) for the next however long. I guess the plan is just to do a few every weekend until we run out…and then stop.  There are times that this whole thing is so embarrassingly slapdash… I think that the boys had fun once they got going, though. We were sitting at dinner that evening and they kept telling stories—how they figured out how to do this or that part of the process and then, of course, stories of chickens squawking as they were being gutted and headless chickens jumping off of tables. We are just doing our part to provide them with good stories to tell their friends and posterity. I hope they appreciate our efforts.

And speaking still more of birds: they are bird-brained except when it comes to getting at our tomatoes. The bird netting has accomplished nothing.

In better garden news, Elijah reports that the garlic has sprouted. I haven’t been up there the last few days as I’ve been trying to take it easy and I’ve had a sick Joseph, but I need to just go ahead and escape to the garden/orchard for a while. Even with all its problems, it makes me happy to see the little bits of things that we’ve done.

I went ahead and put in our initial bare root order, including one special order apple tree. According to my estimates, we have more than enough apple trees to provide for us, but this variety is a particularly good keeper, supposedly at its best after having been in storage for a couple of months, and so it feeds into my dreams of a root cellar someday. This apple is also a very low-chill variety that should do well even after our least wintery winters. I tried not to go too crazy (hard to do—crazy is so very fun), but just to fill in gaps in the season and in our broad potential range of chill hours. I’m trying to set up a situation where something should work out every year.

I continue to lament the loss of last year’s sourdough culture. This year’s is getting better—the culture is smelling less vinegary and more yeasty—but my bread is still not rising fast enough to be recognizably higher even after three hours, let alone doubling in volume. I hate having to repeat the research and experiments I did last year, but that is what I’m going to have to do. A couple of ideas: 1) I’m still getting a lot of hooch, despite our declining temperatures, which means that the culture is hungry. It seems like last year after I got the starter established, I switched from spelt to whole wheat flour and that slowed down the starter’s flour consumption. I need to try wheat and try it a little drier—perhaps 4 oz flour and 3 oz water. 2) My bread is taking forever to cook. Maybe I need to start off at a higher temperature initially (like in my yeasted bread recipe) as then drop it afterwards. Will that negatively affect my crust or my oven-rise? I do not know… I do hope you are enjoying my notes on the sourdough saga.

As I mentioned before, Joseph has been sick—tired, often sad or irritable, occasionally inconsolable and very runny-nosed—but I look down at him with all those things that might make him unappealing to others and I love him so much that my heart could burst. And the Spirit assures me that this is what my Heavenly Father feels for me, even when I am similarly un-adorable. I am so grateful that I do not always get what I deserve.