Consecration Acres

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


Leave a comment

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.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Eggplant Explosion

The garden continues to awaken out of its heat-induced coma. I went out to the garden last Monday hoping to find 3 lbs of baby eggplants so that I could make makdous. Elijah told me that there might be that many, plus “a few” larger ones, so I grabbed a one-gallon bucket and headed out. I found that the Japanese eggplants were struggling—the plants were wilting and many of the eggplants were shriveling—but I still got about 2 lbs of small fruits that were sufficiently plump for my purposes as well as some larger ones that could be used in another dish. Next I turned my attention to the globe eggplants to try to find another lb of little ones. I quickly found what I needed and then started harvesting the full-grown ones. My bucket was full so I grabbed an old orchard-watering bucket (from the pre-drip era) and transferred the big ones into it. I picked and I picked and I picked and I picked and I picked and ended up hauling a little over 6 gallons (25 lbs!) of eggplants into the house. We love ratatouille and baba ghanoush and baingan bhartha and moussaka as well as thai curries with eggplant, but there is a certain point… So, I’ve frozen it, and pickled it this week and eaten meals with it, and I still have a bunch left. I think I just need to slice it up and dry it. I hear it’s a little stronger tasting, but still good when rehydrated and I certainly have enough that I can afford to experiment!

And I made my makdous. This one of those traditional foods that, if it ever became popular—say the McMakdous became all the latest rage—it would almost certainly become illegal because it’s just so….non-compliant with today’s food safety standards. Much like cheesemaking, buttermilk-making, yogurt-making, sauerkraut-making—you kind of stop and look at what you are doing and say, “if all that I think I know is true then this really ought to kill me”. But then you eat it and it doesn’t, and it’s delicious too. So I guess sometimes we just have to choose between the risks of homemade raw milk chevre and perfectly safe and sterile cheezwhiz in a can. Tough one. Anyhow, the makdous look right, smell right (except for a couple that smelled moldy that I threw at the chickens) and they are now sitting in olive oil, waiting for someone brave enough to taste the first one…

I also canned my first batch of pears this week. As I am over the womens’ provident living efforts at our church, I came up with this idea of “canning mentorship”. This is that those who want to learn to can certain specific items sign up, and then those who are canning those items let them know when they are going to do so, the newbies come over, lend a hand and learn the process, and then can go home and do it themselves. It’s a little different structure-wise from what we are all used to (mostly sit-in-a-classroom and listen to a lesson stuff) and we’re still working the kinks out (scheduling around ripening fruit is always a good trick), but I think it’s going ok. My group dwindled to just one last week, but, hey, that is one more pear canner than the world had before! I’ll do another batch in a couple of weeks and see if I can get the other three then. I do have to say, I felt a little guilty sending her home without any pears after she prepped three jars for me. Maybe next time I’ll have everyone bring a quart jar and I’ll send them home with a full one.

We are trying to get things all set and ready for winter (whenever that happens…triple-digits again this week). Hay went on sale and we stocked up and then on Saturday my husband and the boys brought home our first firewood. We found someone who lives just fifteen minutes away with a bunch of nice live oak firewood. It was nice enough that my husband committed to buy everything he had left—we’ll pick it up bit by bit over the course of the week. We’ve still got to get the chimney swept before we try it out.

We are also working on infrastructure. I think I have some easy structures to keep the wood off the ground and dry and we’ve finally decided to go ahead and roof about half the stalls. When we bought them shortly after we moved here, we were assured by the seller that it would be easy to add a roof if we ever wanted to…we have not found it to be so… It’s going to be a bit pricey, but it will give us space and protection for all the goats and a nice big area for hay. Enabling bulk purchases of hay should help us get our costs down a little…not enough to recoup the roof costs anytime in the next decade, but still…

Also, Isaiah replaced the bottom of the layers’ coop and set up the second electronet to expand their run a bit. The layers moved into it tonight and the meat birds will migrate into the grazing pen and electronet tomorrow night.   Yay!

And I’ve decided to go ahead and start building again. I have really missed it, and my shoulder is doing a bit better, so I’m just going to be careful (my diastasis is still being rottenly stubborn) and build myself a bed! My husband and I have been back and forth on the Master suite wood stove a dozen times. It is hard to plunk down that much money for a stove that would be used for only brief periods of time (to keep from overheating the room) for only 2-3 months of the year. So plan B is to build a canopy bed and fully enclose it in the winter at night. I think that between that, the heat from the main room and solar gain during the daytime and my much-beloved electric blanket, we should stay sufficiently toasty. If I am wrong, I am sure that the woodstove store will still be happy to take our money later on.


Leave a comment

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.


1 Comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Fessing up

Sometimes I do a fantastic job with things around here

and sometimes they get pushed aside while I deal with kids stuff or health stuff or Church stuff or political goings on that require attention and involvement, or we have three birthdays, Kid to Work Day (known around here as take-away-the-helpful-olders-and-leave-behind-the-despondent-youngers Day) and Fathers Day all inside a week. Due to some or all of the above “pushed aside” is where I’ve been for the last couple of weeks. It’s getting ugly.

Getting critical:

Milk has not been dealt with. I might have four gallons in the fridge.

I am getting bean build-up. Must cook or blanch and freeze ASAP.

Zucchini. Is zucchini ever not a crisis? I suppose it wouldn’t be if you had nothing else to eat.

Baby beets…still in the fridge. Big beets still need to be harvested…I hope they’re still edible. Sugar beets need to be sugared in my spare time. (sigh)

Cucumbers need a new row of trellis in the garden.

One of our new green “ribbon” soaker hoses has a tear in it, despite not being moved and being used with appropriate water pressure. It is under warranty, so I get to go through that process and see how the manufacturer handles it all. Another to-do.

Fall cabbage, celery and leeks were already supposed to be started.

Chickens are still escaping from the run and we still need to sell/get rid of the ones in the run so we can shift the Delawares and Golden Comets into the run and the rapidly feathering meat flock into the grazing pen and electronet.

We need to decide on a goat course of action. We have too many and need to sell some, but we’d need to register them in order to get the best price for them…yet another to-do. Also, goats are silly. I have now put up shade cloth for them twice, but no matter how high I hang it, they tear it down. Goats are silly. Or maybe they are working on their tans.

I am still ignoring my glycerites that I started way too long ago. I need to add more glycerine to the echinacea ones and get them infusing again or just strain and bottle them—whatever! Just finish this project! I am really, really good at getting these things going and then leaving them alone, but I seem to have a hard time concluding them. For instance, refrigerated sourdough starter or the fruit scrap vinegar that I’ve started now twice and forgotten about. Fortunately for me, glycerine is a good preservative…

Missed it:

The rest of the apricots. Ugh. The batch I put in the dehydrator are great and I may go up and buy some more, but I allowed way too many to die waiting for attention.

The rest of the nectarines. If I could only make cobblers with a wave of my magic wand.

Too many eggs. Fully free-range chickens are insanity. Not having any idea when an egg was laid is a recipe for an occasional smelly egg-opening, which is a recipe for people becoming afraid to open eggs, which is a recipe for having more eggs rot, and now you see the cycle that we are in.

It appears that the goldenseal has died. This is a huge bummer. I will try again in the Fall.

Thus ends my confession, and now I can move forward.

Political goings-on are a part of my recent slide from productivity. They are literally keeping me up at night. The Constitution was such a good idea, forgetting it such a bad one. If everyone knew where governmental powers came from and what its natural limits are, so many debates would be unnecessary. The Proper Role of Government is a great and succinct place to start. When I first read it, I wanted to send a copy to all my legislators. It took some of the wind out of my sending-reading-material sails when my congressman confessed that he didn’t necessarily read all the legislation that he voted on, but just “voted according to [his] conscience”. I am still trying to figure out how exactly ignorance and conscience can work together…