Consecration Acres

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

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Someone’s been eating my garden

We still don’t know who, or rather, what. All my little whos do their own degree of damage—Joseph likes to pick peppers, take a single bite and then throw them and has also decided that cherry tomatoes are fun to pop, the other littles will pick things too green and waste them—but I have yet to have a child bite the tops off of just-sprouted beets, chard, peas and lettuces. Whatever it is, it’s a nasty piece of work. As we still have warm weather I decided to try yet again and I’m gradually replanting everything under floating row covers. So far, I am loving them, and so are all my plants. Instead of going out and lamenting every morning, I go out and sing the praises of whoever invented this wonderful stuff.

We are enjoying our small, but tasty harvest of fall raspberries. I know that raspberries tend to take over and become a bit of a headache eventually, but right now that sounds like a nice problem. They are so, so good.

The tomatoes, also, cannot come on fast enough. The kids usually beat me out there every morning, so by the time I get there, what is left is really green. I do have a secret, though…there’s a tomato on one end called a Purple Cherokee that only blushes pink on the bottom and always stays green on top. Oh, so delicious. And because they don’t look ripe, they are still there when the kids have picked everything else clean. Shhhh…

And I don’t think I’m liking Romas that much. The flavor is poor and if I can get something more dual purpose to work, I think I’d rather.

I made a third batch of makdous. It turned out better than the 2nd (no fruit flies!), but I still had some mold and some were a little alcoholly smelling again. I had found my recipe a year ago and saved it for when I had baby eggplants, but I decided to search makdous recipes again and see if there were any variations that might provide a clue to the issues I was having. Yes! My recipe dry-ferments (I don’t know if that’s the technical term, but there is a lot of salt but no water involved) for a total of five days which was 2-5 times as long as any of the other recipes directed! So, I am going to try a three-day ferment, two without stuffing and one more with and them into the jars. I am hopeful that this will do the trick and that my chickens will stop getting so much makdous.

I taught an home herbal medicine class this week and I have serious housekeeping back up. Among many other things my kitchen is full of past canning projects that need to be cleaned up, labelled, boxed and put away. Cucumbers were on sale and I want to try some fermented pickles (the family that was staying with us brought some and they were fantastic) and I’m out of sauerkraut! And then next week we need to do applesauce. My life is all food, all the time. Sometimes I have to laugh at the enormous amount of time it all takes, but I am grateful for my houseful of hungry people and the ability I have to provide the food they need.

The roof is going up on the goat shelter! I am so excited, so looking forward to dry hay in their feeder and less mud. I am funny. I am up to my eyeballs with everything that needs to be done, but I see our friend up there putting that roof together and think, “that’s not hard… I could do that… I should be doing that…” And then my more reasonable self takes me by the shoulders and looks at me with pursed lips and furrowed brows and clears her throat, ahem.

And it is goat-breeding month. I need to get in touch with our neighbor and see if we can just board Margo over there until she’s bred, but we’re doing heat-watch with Penny as we are still milking her. Wish us luck! We have not been wildly successful in the past.

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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.

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Heat approaches

I have started bedding things down for a long, fiercely hot summer. Tuesday is supposed to reach 102. I am always so nervous when the first triple-digit day hits, and this year, with our unseasonably cool May, I am even more so. It is a refiner’s fire indeed—culling the weakest plants, trees and animals too…always heart-stopping.

I got the last of the sweet potatoes planted, and reserved just a couple of cuttings to fill in gaps if we lose some. I stuck the three potatoes in as well as they had several sprouts each that were too small to root. I need to mark them so I can see if there is a difference between those and the cuttings at harvest time. That bed and the pepper/eggplant bed each got a thick layer of straw mulch on them. The sweet potatoes already look better.

After deciding that we must have slugs eating our cabbages and sprinkling coffee grounds around the plants to deter them, it turns out that we actually have little green cabbage worms. Research required.

We harvested two varieties of beets. They kept wilting, stopped recovering well from their wilts and a couple sent up seed stalks. Overall, the harvest was disappointing. It appears that the soaker hose has a dry spot (how?!) and it was right there, hence the wilting and stress… We have since used the previously unused end of the hose in a nearby bed to fill in the gap for future plantings. We expect a nice little row of weeds to crop up in the path beneath it. Oh well. Next year we will be more sane in our soaker hose layout.

Speaking of, I have tried now three different types of soaker hoses: the rubbery water weeper ones, the sewn fabric ones and now the green “sprinkler if you flip it up, soaker if you turn it down” ones. I like these last ones the most—having a visible hole in the hose every few inches is straightforward and the 5-year warranty inspires confidence. We shall see how they do over time.

In other watering news, Isaiah got the orchard on drip irrigation this week! He made some mistakes along the way, he learned a lot and a friend of ours was so impressed with his work that she’s going to hire him to fix a broken section of her system. Both boys are relieved that orchard-watering went from a 45-minute job to a 5-minute job. I look forward to a similar reduction in the total garden-watering time. Seven watering zones at 15-minutes each is a lot of hooking and unhooking and back-and-forth trips to the garden.

I finally replaced the broken outdoor blinds on the front porch house. I bought three new ones last year, but never managed to get up on a ladder to do the hanging. The two I bought later have magnetic breakaway cords to comply with safety requirements. The instructions warned that care must be taken while raising the blinds to avoid deploying the new feature. Mine broke away twice while I was very gently lowering them. I can’t imagine them standing up to a raising of any sort, or even a stiff wind in a partly raised position, for that matter. Sigh. They used to be a reasonably good product. As I am planning to build my own from shade cloth, I suppose it doesn’t matter much.

Encouraged by his successes in the orchard Isaiah is now concocting his own plans to build the ultimate misting system for our front porch. I told the kids about living in the Phoenix valley and walking past restaurants that had outdoor seating and going suddenly from searing heat and sun to the foggy Scottish moors—this is really what I want on our deck. Perhaps if we had enough mist, it would turn our masonry house into a huge evaporative cooler…

We are attempting to un-free-range Rudy’s flock. I patched a hole in the fence and suspended a tarp over a section of broken netting. I am tired of droppings everywhere, hidden caches found full of eggs or uncertain date ( and the rotten egg surprises that follow) and I suspect that they are eating some of our very pricey fly predators. Lately, some of them have been laying in the cats’ “house”, much to the cats’ chagrin. The one thing I will miss is Jordan coming in every day to tell us that the cats laid another egg.

And we have a Golden Comet broody! Golden Comets are not supposed to go broody, of course. Also, she wants a nice, neat little nest just outside both of our enclosures and gets rather irked when we try to move her. Chickens.

We lost two chicks this week. One died of unknown causes—he was going down when I went out to check on them early in the week and never recovered—and the other appears to have pasted up. It is rotten that we missed it as it is fairly easily remedied. Overall, we have had much less pasting up than last year and we have protected them very well from predators thus far. Some day we’ll be fantastic at this. We are still working on keeping them well watered. They are always thirstier than I think they will be at this age and size.

I need to get out and get the goats more shade. Again, I am nervous about this upcoming week.

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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.

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Agonizing Over Decisions

I’ve been trying to come up with a mantel design for the front room.  Ugh.  We have a local cabinetmaker who said he would follow any drawings I came up with…so I’m working on coming up with.

There are several design problems:

1) The opening is huge.  In order to fit the stove in with all the necessary non-combustible clearances, the alcove is seriously enormous.

2) The mantel is underneath a good 15+ feet of “stone” “chimney”.  Yes, it is all fake and it is floating unsupported very blithely right now, but I am a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to houses and I want this mantel to look substantial enough to support said “stone” “chimney”.

3) The “legs” of the mantel are long and want to be spindly.  I have 6″ of width for sure.  I might be able to push it a little wider, but it starts to interfere with the opening of the cabinet door on one side.  The mantel needs to appear solid and weighty (see #2).  It threatens to look bird-legged.

And then there are the personal shortcomings:

1) I am not an illustrator.  I draw well from life–things that are already there–but do poorly rendering things I cannot see.

2) I can look at a drawing that I have done that has very little information and fill in the gaps.  This is fine when I am drawing plans for myself, but I think it drives my husband a little nuts when I show him a drawing and he doesn’t know what I am talking about, like this.

3) When I’m building, I adjust the design as I go…to make up for the things I didn’t consider when I was doing the drawings, aesthetic issues that became apparent in 3-d, my ignorance of normal construction techniques…  My husband and I were talking about this lately, that perhaps I would have been happier and emerged with significantly less debt and more useful knowledge if I had gone to trade school or apprenticed myself to a cabinetmaker instead of going to art school, but I never considered that back then.  Oh well.

Then there are other considerations such as COST, to paint or to stain (though I’m thinking I’m inclining to paint lately), and then the positively dizzying array of corbels, overlays, capitals, pedestals, rosettes, etc, etc any of which or none of which could be included in the design.  At times I just think, “I will just choose and do my best to draw something that I think will work ok and just not worry if it’s not perfect”, but then I start to add up the expense of it all again and I am back to agonizing.

I am also agonizing over flatware.  My parents bought us a set that was far more than adequate for our family at the time, but now is no longer.  We are tired of the squabbling (“I want a big fork!” “There aren’t enough!” “But you gave yourself one!”) and want a set that will allow the entire family a big fork, perhaps even with a couple to spare.  Of course, I got online and started reading reviews.  Without exception they went like this, in nearly equal numbers:

5 stars: We have had this set for 30 years and it still looks as good as the day we bought it.  Highly recommend!

1 star: We just bought this set 2 weeks ago and there are rust spots all over everything!  Don’t waste your money!

A little poking around revealed that about 90% of flatware manufacturing has been moved to China since those 5-star reviewers bought their sets.  Serious quality issues have followed.  Current patterns still manufactured in First World countries are very limited and expensive, so I started looking into vintage sets on ebay.  I think I can say without exaggeration that there are a ton of old Made in the First World sets available and I think I have looked at all of them.  The trick is that there are no current reviews on these (I really want something with substantial weight–that will stand up to this crew) and the photography is often lacking (does that set really look awful, or does it just look awful photographed while rubber-banded together in semi-darkness on a dirty tablecloth?).  The good thing about this decision is that the price point is significantly lower.  I think it’s time to stop agonizing over this one and get everyone a big fork.  Maybe it would even be a good project for Master Electronics(11) to shine them up when they arrive.  Some polishing compound and access to my Dremel tool could make for a happy boy.

I can only stand to work on this type of house stuff for so long before I have to go find something else to do–too many options and I hate committing and spending money.

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Wood stove!

We have one and intend to be warm this Winter!

Last year when we moved in, we anticipated that heating and cooling costs here would be more than we wanted to pay, but we wanted to get some perspective before we decided what changes we wanted to make.  Summer hit and our first cooling bill came in to the tune of $600-plus and the AC wasn’t even on that whole month!  That was twice what we had planned on and more than our budget could handle, so we turned the thermostat up to 80, got used to being sweaty and I started researching evaporative cooling options.  We’d had one in our first house and I’d really liked it and the resulting Summer bills that were lower than our Winter bills.  Anyhow, it ended up that the cheapest option was to buy a giant (4’x4’x3′) sidedraft unit (intended to connect into existing ductwork), build a platform for it rest on and channel the air through a window on the side of the house.  It drips water onto the deck a bit and I still have no grille over the window so we a have a baby gate up there instead, but, oh my, it is lovely!  Even on HOT days we didn’t get much above 75F and our bill dropped more than $300.  We also hung outdoor blinds all around the deck and porch overhang (that helped considerably with solar heat gain in our masonry house–I used to go outside at night and could feel the heat radiating off the house for hours after the sun had gone down) and added indoor blinds to the high windows in the great room and the greenhouse window in the kitchen.  I was especially grateful once I was sick and pregnant not to be having to deal with awful heat at the same time.

Winter last year was much the same story, except that instead of being first hit in the gut with a monster bill, we woke up to no heat or hot water.  We called the propane company, they refilled the tank, gave us the bill (!) and we turned the thermostat down to 60.  We also no longer ran the very high-end propane-guzzling fake fireplace (despite how nice it was to have a warm spot in the house), as it seemed that every time we switched it on our tank was instantly empty.  We did a lot of looking at it and asking eachother why, why, why they would go to the trouble and expense of a propane fireplace when there are five acres of oak trees at the back of the property?  And we began looking into wood stove options.  It turned out that our least room-disruptive option was to cut an alcove into the existing fake chimney.  It was also expensive, but at the current cost of propane, it will likely pay for itself within five years, not to mention that this will provide us an indoor emergency cooking option or that the cost of propane is highly unlikely to remain where it is.  So, as of Tuesday night, it is in!  It was tested Wednesday morning and found warming and thrilling.  The boys are excited to start the splitting, hauling and starting fires.  I am betting they will be even more excited to stop doing these things once the weather begins to warm in the Spring.

I am realizing that what this blog is missing is photos.  My camera is getting a little flakey and scary and I’m a little…sedentary, for now.  I may start researching cameras.  Perhaps that would be a good request for Christmas?  By Christmas I should also be feeling slightly humanoid as well.  I look forward to that.  I really want to be able to go into the kitchen (without my stomach churning!) and do Christmas baking!