Consecration Acres

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


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Solar cooker, suckers and a rebounding garden

While summer is far from over, I am feeling hope of cooler temperatures. Our overnight lows are consistently chilly and keeping the evaporative cooler on overnight leads to in-house lows of about 56F. The kids complain occasionally, but it means we top out at 73 or 4 with the added bonus of starting off the morning in sweaters—clothing of the gods. Perhaps just the Norse gods… I need to start paying attention to our combined high and low. A neighbor of ours says that ideal grass-growing weather is when the combined temps equal 100F. My pasture-seeding experiment last year was a complete flop, I believe in part because I seeded when the books said to and it was still far too hot to sprout before everything was cooked or eaten. Speaking of weather (and I sure do!) the larger weather patterns are suggesting an El Nino year. Apparently, last time this brought torrential rains and flooding to our neck of the woods. Boy, could we use a little of that.

The garden has noted the cooler temps and those plants that have just been hanging on are waking up and becoming productive. The tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and tomatillos are going crazy. If we can keep the birds and voles off of them, we will have a glut. This week we also harvested our first little handful of potatoes. One of the plants had died, so I poked around underneath and pulled up spuds! Bethel worked them into yesterday’s potato salad. We are also quickly eating our way through all our butternut squash. They are on the smaller side (due to irrigation system breakdown, perhaps) and very, very sweet so we’ll go through three in a sitting. We need to start using up the pumpkins. August is hardly the time I feel inclined to start eating pumpkins, but I feel much less inclined to watch them go bad, so it’s time to start working through them.

The corn has been disappointingly starchy and not very sweet. I’ll continue to try to pick it earlier, but at some point I’m going to throw in the towel, dry it and grind it into cornmeal. Fortunately, the goats love the stalks and husks and the chickens will eat the cooked corn very merrily after we’ve all maxxed out on starchiness. With animals around, there isn’t ever much in the way of true waste.

I’ve been cooking most of our side vegetables in a diy solar cooker. A woman from church taught a group of us to make this solar cooker and it’s worked really well for potatoes, yams, beets, carrot and parsnips. I tried baking bread in it this week, but I got it out a little late and it didn’t finish before the sun went down so I had to switch it to the oven. The texture was lighter and coarser than usual—different, but everyone liked it and it was gone within 24 hours. I will try again.

Isaiah is still working on our latest garden irrigation system. He is barely keeping pace with the breakage of the older one. While perhaps well-suited to a careful adult watering a long border of flowers, the hoses have not withstood melons, pumpkins or the not-so-careful approach to turning on the soakers most often employed around here.

In the exciting world of preserving…I made a batch of German pickles from my mom’s recipe and two more batches of marinara sauce. The German pickles need a few weeks to fully become themselves, but we fished the last few out of the bottom of the pan (hot-pack pickles! Who knew there was such a thing?) and divided them up between us. They were universally liked. I prefer them to the sweet pickles I’ve been making, as the flavor is more balanced between sweet and sour. I ended up switching spices around a little as I was out of dill weed and yellow mustard seed, so we’ll see next month how they are with the added flavors of black mustard and dill seed.

I still need to get out and prune suckers. The ones on the apricot tree are as tall as the tree itself, and that’s just since March! It’s just too bad I don’t want to grow myro29c-fruit, whatever that is. It appears it would do quite well.

Separating the babies from Ella at night has been great and we’re enjoying all the milk. I’ve got to use one of these cool mornings and make butter and clear out all my old cream jars in the freezer. Butter-making is a beast in hot weather, but I’m afraid I’ve put it off so long now that it will be a bit freezer-flavored. Summer strikes again. And registering our goatlets is on hold for a little while now as, if I joined ADGA tomorrow, my membership would be good only until 31 Dec 2015, but if I wait until 2 Sept, it will be good until 31 Dec 2016. So, I hold my horses/goats. We are having a hard time deciding which girl to sell and which to keep. Blossom has been healthy and vigorous and a little more even-tempered from the get-go, but Flower nearly died when she was first born and has the distinction of being our only black and white goat, so everyone’s a little sweet on her. Fortunately, we still have time to decide.

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A canning week

The week turned out to be moderately productive. I have this idea that if I can go full-speed for one day, I should be able to go full-speed all week long. This is not the case. I think I might have gotten more done if I’d taken it easier on Tuesday and hit Wednesday a little fresher. Oh well. Jars were filled.

First thing Monday we got up and tackled those 88 lbs of nectarines. I assigned each of the three olders eight full jars each (about 11-13 lbs) and Bethel and Jordan (who was not assigned anything but turned out to be a pretty swell canner) did a few more than that each. By lunch we had only a half box remaining uncut and the processing was all done by about 4:30. One jar lid popped off when I was removing it from the canner, and so I know that they turned out well. For my future reference: one gallon water, ½ cup sugar, ¼ cup SteviaPlus, 3/8 tsp citric acid for the canning liquid was great—sufficiently sweet with a slight acid tang. I had the thought as we were working that there are probably not too many children who can and that ours might stand a good chance of placing if they entered the county fair.  We’ll see if they are interested when fair season comes around again.

On Wednesday I made sweet pickles (these only have to brine for 3-4 hours) and then started a batch of marinara sauce with the tomatoes that were on sale last week. It is the middle of tomato season and they all ought to be at their peak, but the seeds are still bitter. I’m afraid I’m going to have to give in and remove them. Bummer. Even bigger bummer that we have two long rows of tomato plants outside and that between irrigation issues, heatwaves and voles, we have only gotten a small handful of tomatoes.

I have another batch of pickles to make this week and then some peaches, bananas and pineapples to dry and then I’ve got to get to some non-kitchen stuff around here, such as getting back out to the garden and doing some midsummer sucker pruning in the orchard. A drop in daytime temperatures would help in tackling these activities as well. We should have returned to the mid-90s by Thursday. Mmm, nice and cool…

In the barnyard: The meat flock has hit that weird phase when they start to look like full-grown birds, but they still peep like babies. And they continue to eat like horses. Whoever coined “eat like a bird” was not trying to raise 50 chickens to butcher weight. Also, it’s a bit past time to start tracking goats’ heat cycles. I sure love the milk, but the whole caprine ob/gyn /fertility specialist gets to be a little insane some times. I’m also trying to detangle the whole goat registration thing. Registering the does with ADGA will enable us to sell them for much higher prices than we would otherwise, but Ella’s ear tattoo (a permanent identifier like a brand on cattle) was a duplicate of another goat’s…thus, a mess in need of detangling.

Joseph eats at the table now and makes an unbelievable mess at every meal. At least once a day I strip everything off of him, sit him cross-legged in my bathroom sink, turn on the hot and cold water taps and clean him off. He sits with his back to me, so I have to clean him off mainly by touch, working my way through crusty and sticky and greasy till I finally hit soft baby skin. He is convinced that his hair is a napkin, so that takes a good deal of time as well and he has just discovered that he can get food into his ears and nose as well—also a good cleaning challenge. So, I scrub and I scrub until I find Joseph beneath all the mess and then I take him out and he yells and cries because he LOVES taking a bath in the sink. I wrestle him into clean clothes and he sobs on my shoulder and usually wants to nurse, because nursing makes everything better, even the end of bathtime. Being a mother to a toddler is such a funny thing. They are such cute and crazy little beings—smart, observant and capable enough to be either infuriating or hilarious, depending on how you look at it. What an utterly exhausting pleasure it all has been.


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Canning, sugaring and ravenous beasts

It’s nice to get back to a more normal life. Homestead-wise the neglect and decay were getting to be a bit much. Progress is always slow around here, but I like to see a little movement in the right direction here and there.

It is SO time for goat decisions. The pasture is barely deserving of the name, hay is a little less expensive than a year ago but still far from cheap, and we have six goats! I finally castrated Bud yesterday. He was (gulp) 12 weeks old—he should have been closer to 5. I just hope it took. He’s been acting bucky already. SO, do we sell him or eat him? I am thinking that we don’t want to have more than 3 does in milk at any time.  Penny’s getting up there (I think perhaps we’ve got just another 2 freshenings out of her), so Margo will replace her, Ella’s still young and then one of her girls will be breed-able next Fall (which one to keep??), so there are our three. But do we breed or milk Ella through? We separated the doelings from Ella for the first time last night and got about 3x the milk we were getting the rest of the week (Bud got to have one more night after his ordeal), and whatever was causing her pink milk has resolved (amazing what a few cloves of garlic will do), so milking through is now a possibility. Running the potential numbers for three pregnant goats next year gets a little dizzying—with Ella and Penny both throwing triplets and assuming twins for Margo, we’d be looking at twelve goats for a time next year! I think that may be more than I’m up for…especially with eight disbuddings and potentially eight castrations…ugh. My husband’s been working nearly non-stop this week and all decision-making has been pushed out. We can’t do that anymore.

The chickens have also become eating machines—this week they ate about 100 lbs of feed! I wonder if they weigh 2lbs each yet. At some point I’ll track inputs and outputs and face the numbers (music?), for right now I buy feed, pray for quick growth and enjoy our homegrown meat that has very little fat and such good flavor that you don’t even need to salt it!

I read another article this week about building a DIY maggot breeder/dispenser for chicken feeding—at some point I’d really like to do this. It was a good tutorial, but, unfortunately, they kept apologizing for feeding bug larvae to their chickens, even after noting that this is what chickens are looking for and eating whenever they are scratching in the ground. I have read that the overwhelming bulk of a chicken’s natural diet (based on observations of wild jungle fowl—their nearest non-domesticated relative) is insects in various stages of development, also that old-time pasture management included bringing chickens through to clear the pasture of insects and parasites after the ruminants had come, eaten and “fertilized”. Don’t apologize for feeding them what they are supposed to eat!  Vegetarian hens are crazy-unnatural. I know you wanted my two cents on that…

Wow, am I ever loving having 8 fewer chickens running about! Buying new animals is fun, but the relief delivered by selling an animal problem is an equal joy.

I finally oven-dried some chicken bones this week. They are still sitting on the counter waiting to be turned into bone meal…and doing so very patiently…good little oven-dried bones…

I also finally tackled sugar beet processing. I used these directions. It was as much work as it sounds like from the tutorial and significantly more time as the dehydration took twice as long as he suggested and I never got any crystallization (apparently, that typically takes 3-7 days, how could he do it in as few as 8 hours?). I started with 3 lbs of beets and ended up with 1 cup of very dark syrup. Apparently, I didn’t microwave them for long enough before food processing as they went almost immediately to black. It all looked pretty unpromising along the way, but tasted reasonably good—strong, but not as strong as blackstrap molasses. I like my sweeteners to add some flavor, so I think it would be a good fit for us. The big thing is the work/time factor. For next time: grow larger beets (sugar beets can weigh 1-2 lbs each—mine didn’t and this meant more surface area to prep) skip the peeling and just scrub well and trim, use my electric slicer to speed the slicing, microwave for longer (cook those enzymes!), reduce the water a bit–a 3x water:beet ratio seemed excessively watery, and then figure out some way to use the sun to dehydrate the stuff! We’ve used our homemade solar cooker now on potatoes, yams and beets (food magic on par with cheesemaking)—time to figure out a solar dehydrator. Why have a blistering hot, black, SW-facing deck if you can’t do a chunk of your summer food preservation on it?

I’m looking at all the Fall gardening starts that we haven’t started, the irrigation issues we are still having and the vole-infested melon bed and I am thinking that two beds will be more than enough this year. It/we will be better next year, right?

Elijah harvested our first raspberry this week. It will be just a handful this year.

This week is nectarine canning week. I usually try to spread it out more, but I am afraid we are getting to the end already, so I’m just going after it tomorrow. I got my feet wet this last week with a batch of seven. I have about four dozen ahead of me. I’ve also got 10 lbs of cucumbers to pickle and 12 lbs of tomatoes to sauce. I hope Joseph is feeling cooperative.


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Missing Month

Here it is, the 2nd of August. July passed without a single blog post and next to zero progress on homesteady types of things. We started off with my manpower (boypower?) spending a week at Scout camp. My husband, the girls and I scraped along on the top priority stuff, but anything lower priority had to be dropped. The next week we got ready to go to a couple of family reunions, then we were gone to those for a bit over a week and then last week we had to recover from being on vacation… poof! There goes July!

It was good to see everyone (it really made me wish we all lived a little closer so it didn’t always have to be such an event to get together), but the timing was pretty hard. My idea that I could just call summer winter (call busy-ness off for unworkable weather) has turned out not to work terribly well. The garden is still doing something (even if slowly), all the fall garden stuff should already be started and bubbling along, the goats are starting to turn into a crisis (we are NOT set up to handle six large-ish-sized goats) and it is peach season and I haven’t canned a single one. We just barely caught the tail end of blueberry season—they went on sale the day before we were supposed to leave and I froze about 25 lbs that night when I probably should have been working on other, trip-related things. Apples and pears come galumphing along sooner than I think….there’s just really no halting it. So when is my cabin-fever season? When do I teach Bethel to knit and quilt?

We sold Rudy and seven of his free-ranging ladies. YAY! Now I need to figure out how to get Louie and his ladies into the coop and run so that the rapidly growing meat flock can shift over to the electronet and grazing pen. The complicating factor is that Louie is too big to fit through the coop door! If we could just get some of his flock to go broody, we’d be in good shape to start improving our flock of Delawares with him as the gigantic sire. I find it ironic (and yet, somehow, unsurprising) that the last two years, when we had no roosters, we could not keep our hens from going broody—this year we have had three roosters and no broodies. Chickens.

We have voles in the garden, destroying our melons, tomatoes and even Elijah’s cactus he had planted. Do we need to get a third cat just to control the garden vermin? Of course, the follow-up question would be, how does one get a cat to do anything that one wants it to do?

Here’s hoping for a slightly productive week. Fingers crossed.