Consecration Acres

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


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June’s conclusion

I can hardly believe the month is almost over, but I am glad that we are headed for later mornings, if not yet cooler temperatures (the second week of August is our usual turn-around for temps, bleagh). Joseph doesn’t care overmuch about darkness (he will still occasionally awaken around 3am, ready to start the day), but it does seem to make early mornings a bit more of a given for everyone else. The combination, this past week, of relentlessly early mornings, an incredible heat wave and an out-of-town husband left me mostly non-functioning by Friday, but I managed to hack away at a few things during my functional moments prior to that time.

We ended the week with almost as much zucchini as we began it with, but we did not end with twice as much, and that is a great victory. I used 4 cups in zucchini bread, shredded and froze 20 more cups, cooked a bunch up into Ratatouille (along with eggplant and beans from our garden!) and then Isaiah made veggie melts (homemade sourdough bread spread with mayo, topped with a slice of fresh tomato, sautéed onion, shredded zucchini and sliced mushrooms and sprinkled with a little salt and pepper and homemade mozzarella cheese). As I said, the box is full again, but there is nothing rotting or going to the chickens, so I am happy. All our zucchini foods have been delicious. Jordan was pretty repulsed by the idea of zucchini bread initially, but changed her tune upon smelling it baking and then tasting it. She had promised me that I could eat all of her pieces. She did not keep her word.

About half of the milk in the fridge had gone bad and I ended up tossing it, but the other half made fantastic mozzarella—perhaps the best batch I have made, in terms of texture. As always, there was plenty of gasping, jumping up and running to the kitchen when I remembered that I was making cheese in addition to everything else going on, but it’s nice to be familiar enough with the process to know where I can let it slide (waiting for it to curdle and the stretching) and where I have to be really on top of it (not letting the temperature get too high). Bethel helped me stretch it this time. I’ll probably start teaching her the rest of the process on the next batch.

The garden marches on. We pulled the pea plants out. It was a little dismaying to see how many were missed in harvesting. I collected a bit over a pound of “free” seed from my favorite variety—which turns out to be Green Arrow and not Thomas Laxton as I had originally thought—and the goats happily slurped up the others, vines and all. Nothing is ever truly wasted, I suppose.

We also pulled most of the parsnips and the big beets. The sugar beets still await that mythological gap in my schedule when I can squeeze in trying something new.

It looks like we have enough cucumbers for a batch of pickles. We have had some that have been so sweet that we ate them without salt, and a couple so bitter that no amount of salt could make them edible. I think I will just need to taste a slice of each as I go to make sure we end up with good pickles. I may try my mom’s German pickles this time as we still have both dills and sweets from the random Winter cucumber sales this year.

We also harvested our first couple of not-quite-ripe melons (we may lack a little patience around here) and 2 nearly ripe PUMPKINS. Pumpkins? In June? What does one do with pumpkins in June?

And it appears that we have an issue with those irrigation hoses that I was liking. I still don’t know whether it is a defect in the design or young user error (I am afraid that my pleas to adjust the water pressure to “just enough” fell on deaf ears), but we have now lost two and are throwing in the towel and converting to a system like this one. I am trying not to fret over the money wasted and just count it as part of the cost of taking Gardening 101. The funny thing about Gardening 101 is that you think that you are signed up for certain courses, say, Vegetable Varieties that Grow Well in Your Yard, but then the class is going along and you discover that you are actually in Irrigation Systems: Trial and Error or Plant Markers that Don’t Wash off in the Rain or Intro to Cabbage Loopers. The course descriptions need some work…

After a year of thinking about it, I am finally trying to make my own bone meal. The instructions say to fully clean the meat and connective tissues off the bones. After fiddling with it for fifteen minutes I decided the best way to clean the bones off was to boil them, i.e. make stock, but I left out the vinegar that I usually use to pull calcium into the broth as that seemed a little counter-productive. Any guesses as to how many Tablespoons of meal I’ll end up with from two chickens? Our soil is so calcium-poor that we should perhaps be raising something larger and denser-boned for this purpose.

After my old dehydrator died and took all those pineapples down with it, I was excited to see pineapple on sale again this week. Eight pineapples barely filled half of my new dehydrator. They turned out fine, except that the bottom tray was a little softer than the rest. It looks like I might need to do a little tray rotating, but at least this dehydrator does not have a track record of catching fire! Overall, I am pleased with it. I am planning to use the trays from my old one to build a solar dehydrator. We may as well get some benefit from the miserable afternoon temps on our SW-facing black deck.

I am knocking on wood that we are, again mouse-less. Apparently, our barn cats fell down on the job and allowed rodents to access the house at some point and we were seeing droppings and occasional flashes of movement in the kitchen and pantry. I set two traps and we caught one that first night. The other was empty that morning, but when I went to go put it away later on I found it occupied as well. Visions of a large family of mice residing and reproducing in my house filled my mind, so I dutifully peanut-buttered two more traps that night. One of them sprung when Isaiah bounced a basketball in the house, but the other is still set and empty. I pray that it remains so and that my cats are a little more diligent in the future.

And, in yet more vermin news…Isaiah was bitten on the top of the foot by something while he slept and, over the course of the next day, the bite became extremely swollen and uncomfortable. Our usual remedies didn’t touch it and by the following morning he had some edema all across his forefoot (he said it felt sloshy when he shook his foot) and this weird, lacy pattern was developing around the bite. My niece had been bitten by a poisonous spider a few years ago on a trip and they were advised to poultice it with damp tobacco and she recovered quickly with no scarring. We decided to try it out that second night and by the next morning, it was noticeably better. He has continued to heal well, even without reapplying the tobacco. Amazing how something that can be so destructive to bodies when abused can be such a powerful healer when used correctly.

“And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.”

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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…


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Catching up

I keep on having my weekends evaporate before I get to recording the week’s progress. I’ve got to get it down now before it all becomes even more unwieldy in my head.

Garden report: The potatoes went in the week before last and are starting to make an appearance. Yay! We had some potatoes back in OR that were so good that they didn’t need any butter or salt—this is my dream for these spuds…that and that I will successfully cure, store and grow new ones next year from our seed. Aim high!

The first round of tomatoes went into the first 18” bed today. I miscalculated or mismeasured and I have room for three more plants. They were a little dried out going in, but I buried them deep and watered them well. I need to read up on pruning and managing determinates vs indeterminates again. Hopefully, once I’ve done it I’ll stop forgetting…

I pulled out the last of the radishes today. Wow!   I did not know that radishes could get so enormous! We had a black variety that came in a mixed packet that grew bulbs larger than my fist and greens longer than my arm, and spicy as all get out. Those will go into the kimchi in place of daikons. The greens went into the goats and they quite liked them.

The spinach that actually grew is getting big and needs to be eaten. I need to see whether I can harvest just the outer leaves. I transplanted a couple of last fall’s chard from the old bed and they have taken hold and are growing again. I’ll move the rest over and then I’ll just have the lonely garlic and a single pea plant that is still hanging on over there.

Despite the brilliance and simplicity of the idea that pea plants can just be planted in two rows 6” apart and then hold onto eachother as they grow skyward, the peas, apparently, think otherwise. Pea supports are needed. Is it because of our wind?

The beets are looking fantastic. At some point I need to poke around and see what the roots look like.

The squashes and pumpkins are growing enormous leaves, sending out tendrils, blossoming and growing little jellybean-sized fruit. The yellow summer squashes are a bit ahead of the game at 4”. I am beginning to dream of sautéed squash with butter and salt.

The melons have blossomed and we are awaiting the appearance of jellybean-sized melons.

Orchard/berry report: Isaiah spent about 20 minutes and got the blueberries on drip irrigation. He’s got the rest of the orchard and berries all figured out and we are now awaiting parts. I am always grateful for the way his brain works and don’t mind his impetuosity at all when he takes on projects that overwhelm me.

The new trees are now looking loads better after two rounds of orchard spraying. The Bartlett pear is also looking much improved. Unfortunately, another of our fig trees is looking poorly. Elijah is researching to see if he can figure out what’s going on and how to save it. I just remember the nursery folks telling us how easy and trouble-free fig trees were here…oh well…

We ate our one and only surviving peach. It was wonderful. Some day I hope we’ll get more than one per annum. We also got a very few blueberries. Considering the fact that they were transplanted while they were blossoming, I am pretty pleased.

All our grapes are alive! We had a couple that I thought were dead, but we’ve got new growth this week! What a blessing and wonderful surprise.

Kitchen report: Pineapples were dried, canned and gorged upon and strawberries were frozen and combined with the last of the apples for more strawberry-apple butter. With the apples gone I am ready to welcome in cherry season.

Animals report: We’ve got to get rid of some of these chickens. The plan is to sell Rudy and his flock. The new meat birds arrive in a little more than a week.

We are on goat watch. Ella is due on Saturday, but has been moaning and groaning and showing various other signs of impending kidding. I was just thinking that this will be our third kidding this year and we still don’t know what to expect because we’ve never been through kidding with this particular goat. Three births, three different goats! Here’s hoping for a daylight delivery, straightforward presentations, a calm momma goat, TWO healthy babies who are good nursers and girls would be nice so I don’t have to deal with castration…

Other: The goldenseal is looking ok, but I’m wondering if it needs a better mulch. My understanding is that it is a forest floor dweller in nature. The motherwort and marshmallow are pretending that it is winter in damp peat in the fridge for a couple of months. As their planter was empty, I bought some non-medicinal lobelia (all they had) and some impatiens. They are not very useful, but they are very pretty and look nice in the blue planters flanking the green door.

I think I need to shift my thinking about the seasons here. Growing up in New England, winter was always the time for inside projects, sewing, etc. Here, winter is about six weeks long and only two of those are post-Christmas. This is not nearly long enough for all the inside stuff I need to get done. And so…perhaps summer needs to be the new winter. It lasts about as long as a NE winter, slows down the garden and is miserable to go out in. I’ll see if I can make it work.


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Garden and orchard report

I need to do a quick wrap-up of the last couple of weeks so that my brain can let go and move in to this Monday.

We spent last week sick and it sure felt like the flu again. Apparently, this year’s strain was/is mutating really quickly. Woohoo. At least I was smarter with the herbs this go around and didn’t make things worse—everyone seems to have wrapped it up in about a week and the coughs are going away quickly. In brief, don’t use immune stimulants with flu—it is better to treat it more like an allergy.

Also, in the exciting world of herbs, I finally planted that last blueberry out with the others and filled the empty planters with peppermint, chocolate mint and stevia. I have a couple of other herbs that I want to put out there with them as soon as I decide which planters to buy. Most herbs require a lot of sun, but there are few that should do well up there. Our raspberry canes are also going completely nuts. I just keep walking out there and seeing all those leaves and thinking “medicine, medicine, medicine….”

The other plants I put in are doing well. I bought them from the same place where we purchase our bulk foods. I had no idea that they carried plants as well! They also carry gypsum for about ½ the price that we paid for ours. Good to know for the future. Anyhow, I planted leeks, bush beans, cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash, pumpkins and two types of winter squash. I try to avoid looking at companion planting charts as I have thoroughly messed things up in that sense, and rotating our crops is going to be ridiculous given this year’s bed usage. I am just making use of whatever space we have available, throwing things in the ground willy-nilly and always a little bit late, but at least they are in the ground! We’ll work on being a little less silly with the Fall garden.

I bought a bunch of blank paint stir sticks to mark the garden with. I need to find a different way of writing plant varieties on them—the ink washed away in our single rainstorm. I am thinking of trying the fabric paint that comes in squeeze bottles. It wouldn’t wash away, but could be scraped or sanded off so I could reuse the markers.

We have eaten our first produce from the Spring garden (the peas were planted in the Fall)—radishes, of course. Grace pronounced them “sour”, as she describes anything with an intense flavor.

I spent some (lots of) time levelling the ground and fixing the mulch around the fruit trees. We had a neighbor bring in heavy equipment to plant the fruit trees we bought this year. The planting went a lot quicker, but everything’s really torn up back there now. I’m trying to get it shifted back to level-ish before it bakes in the sun for eight months. And the boys either didn’t hear or understand my instructions on mulching the trees, as the mulch is all right up against the bark, sometimes even covering the graft. I’m scraping that down, redistributing it evenly around the tree and then putting a 6” band of pea gravel immediately around the trunk of the tree. The gravel should do all the good things mulch is supposed to do, but not harbor insects so badly.

The new apple trees are looking lousy. I haven’t taken the time to ID what is getting them (some kind of caterpillar), but Isaiah hit them with some neem last week, so hopefully that will knock them back and give the trees a chance to put out some new leaves.

Ella is looking wide. About five weeks to go before she kids!

The farmers nearby are cutting and baling hay. I’d like to try a little cutting, drying, stacking this year just to get our feet wet, but I’ll have to see if I can squeeze it out of the boys in between garden bed building and filling. I am working really hard to heal my diastasis right now so that I will be more useful in the future, but right now cross-body motion is strictly forbidden. No scything or raking for me…

I went ahead and painted the front door. I’ve been missing New England really badly this last year and was on Houzz looking at NE farmhouses when I was up at 3:30am with a wakeful Joseph and I realized that the green I chose is really common back there, if not so much in sunny CA. Now, if my door didn’t have so much glass I could hang my pineapple door knocker and really be set.

I took Joseph down to Sacramento for a bill hearing at the Capitol. The turnout of concerned citizens was encouraging, but I was reminded of how slimy and underhanded the whole political thing can be and of what an utterly awful idea it is to give a group of people the full-time job of coming up with rules and restrictions for everyone else—cause they sure do it! I know there are states where the legislature is only allowed to meet for a very few designated weeks so that the legislators can and need to have other jobs. It seems that their time and mine would be better spent under such an arrangement.