Consecration Acres

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


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Hay fever continued

It’s amazing how much a nearly-invisible particle (and all its friends and relations) can affect your life.  For us, the pollen has all but banished us to the indoors and we are really hoping we will soon see a decrease in levels.  I am diligently eating as much minimally-cleaned garden produce as I can manage, keeping in mind that this process will take time…  It is hard after all this down time to be patient and wait for this.

For the Garden Report:  the lettuces are starting to wilt and or bolt in the higher heat, the radishes and spinach are well into bolting and I’m not sure that the fava beans are going to survive long enough to produce anything.  I thought that the favas would be heat-happy based on their country of origin, but the package warned that they should be planted as soon as the ground could be worked and we were way past that point when we got that first bed cleared.  Next year…

I regularly have forehead-slapping moments, and I had one today.  I was out watering and lamented to Elijah that the peas were just producing but that one double row was turning yellow and dying.  He picked a couple from a different row and fed them to Joseph, who gobbled them and then went on to pick some from the yellowing row and eat them.  Elijah told him he shouldn’t eat those ones.  As I was thinking back over the varieties I had planted (so as not to plant the dying variety again) I dragged from the mists of my mind that I had planted a pea variety with “golden” in the name.  And so I tasted a pea pod.  They were great—Golden Sweet Snowpeas if anyone wants to plant them.  This was almost the same as two years ago when I was worried about and trying to remedy yellow spots on my melon leaves, only to realize that they were Moon and Stars melons.  Once again, a feature, not a bug.

As we wait to get out in the garden again, I am trying to chip away at inside projects.  Bethel and I moved the first of five kitchen cabinets up 2” to match the newly installed ones (long story) and Isaiah and I finally installed the barn doors to the piano room.  I may do some before and afters as we complete these projects.  I never did very much with the house back in CA.  It was enormous and overwhelming and expensive to do anything to it.  This house is human scale and we were able to avoid taking out a mortgage, so even though it needs a lot more work, I feel much less owned by it and much more content.  It’s a little small for our current family size, but as we begin the process of launching soon, I suspect it will not remain so.

We had an exciting hay development these last two weeks.  A neighbor mentioned that we might be able to sell our grass hay and got in touch with someone who agreed to cut and bale it for half the proceeds of the sale.  Tomorrow evening the bales will be picked up and we should get around $300 just for letting the grass grow.  This may be the most we have ever made from our little farmish efforts.  Huzzah!

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Hay fever

Allergies are always bad when we first move to a new place, but this year, surrounded by our six plus acres of ungrazed and merrily wind-pollinating grasses, we are really suffering.  Elijah helped me disinter the garden hose that was buried beneath all the huge irrigation pipes yesterday and ended up with his eyes literally swollen shut for a while.  I stayed out and watered everything and even with the herbs that I take I am still feeling pretty awful.  NEXT YEAR all the garden/orchard/whatever-else heavy lifting has to be done before June strikes, and our watering must be automatic!  It was a little tricky to keep up before allergy season hit, but now it is really not going well.

Since I last wrote we have put in the second bed of strawberries, some Fall Gold raspberries, three little grape vines, a few tomatoes and some peppers.  My husband bought cabbages and eggplants as well, but I haven’t managed to stay outside long enough to finish prepping their bed so I can plant them.  Considering everything—spotty watering, weeds trying to reclaim the beds, no fertilizer—they are all hanging in there pretty well.  The radishes are really good, the Red Sails and Red Romaine lettuces are gorgeous and the beets and chard have finally decided to pick it up and grow.  The peas are holding eachother up this year (weird!) and are putting out their first blossoms. My purple artichokes all came up, but are being really slow, while only one of my green artichokes came up but it is growing well.  So far my non-red lettuces have made a pitiful show, the spinach likewise, my carrots REALLY need more and really consistent water and I’m getting ready to declare the Brussels sprouts no-shows.  Now if I could just stand to be out there long enough to record my varieties, then this farm journal might really be worth having.

We are working on the fertilizer production.  After mulling various animal possibilities, discovering that one of the Navajo-Churro sheep the farmer wanted to sell was an extremely old ewe, and reviewing our budget and the need for outbuildings to overwinter animals, we decided instead to purchase a Holstein steer from our neighbor.  He is (mostly) happily grazing down our upper pasture and will be butchered in the fall before the snows hit.  He has no name.  We tried for a while, but couldn’t agree on anything, and as he is just going to become meat…  I would say “poor fellow” but he is living a fantastically bovine life out there—eating, drinking and fertilizing the days away.  The only thing he misses are his herd mates when they are grazing at the far end of the neighbor’s pasture.  As he is basically a waste product of the dairy industry in this area, things could be much worse for him.

You may recall my rantings over the price of hay back in CA.  As we are in peak haying season and rain is supposed to hit this week, farmers all over the valley are advertising hay $2-$3 per bale to anyone who will come and collect it.  Good grief!  And now we have no place to store it and no animals that will need it…  Elijah suggested that we could buy some and build a barn out of it.  🙂


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End of an era

This Thursday, Elijah left for his first day of full-time employment.  Moms get misty watching their 5 and 6-year-olds toddle off with lunchboxes and backpacks for their first day of school, I admit to mist as I watched my 17 ½ year old leave the house with his giant insulated lunch pack (he is 17, after all) and drive away.  I feel remarkably blessed to have spent nearly every day of those years nearby, to have been able to guide and to witness the spectrum of his transformation from a little round baby boy, to a young man ready to take on adulthood.  It has been an honor and a joy.

I remember being a young mom and going to the extra effort to drop my husband off at work in the early morning so that I could attend a La Leche League meeting.  I was feeling a little isolated at home and was hoping to meet like-minded women and enjoy some adult conversation.  I found the meeting place and apologetically squeezed myself and Elijah into the only (and very slim) remaining spot on a couch in the leader’s living room.  The mini-lesson lasted about 45 minutes and then the leader opened the remaining time for socializing or one-on-one questions.  I hate small-talk with a passion, but recognize that it is typically a necessary evil to get to the meatier stuff on the other side, so I probably prepared my face with a smile and my mind for fluffy exchanges, but even that was not to be.  The woman on my right turned to the women on her right, the woman on my left to the women on her left and they started talking to eachother immediately.  I looked around the room, still smiling and hoping to catch someone’s eye, but it was the same everywhere—everyone appeared to be engaged with someone else and it was all appearing pretty hopeless—until I looked down.  Elijah was sitting on my knees, facing me.  He must have picked up on my expression, because he was looking up at me with his eyes wide open and a bright, expectant smile on his face.  I bent down, smiled back at him, and we un-wedged ourselves and went home.  Home is a pretty great place when there are such great people in it.

Garden news—we appear to have baby lettuces and some peas coming up, I am not sure about anything else as there are a lot of weeds in the mix as well.  Bethel and I put in one bed of strawberries on Friday.  They were not labelled so I am not sure if they are the June-bearing or Everbearing variety—anyhow, I am hoping to get the other batch in early this week.  I also planted our third garden bed yesterday with radishes, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, artichokes and chard.  My layout is silly and planning is next to zero, but we are in the phase of just throwing things in and hoping something will work out.  Next year, or maybe even the fall garden will be better.  Right now I am really wishing that we had irrigation down there.  The rain is a little inconsistent for seedlings and the canals probably won’t have water until the end of the month!

We also really need to figure out fencing.  We will really miss having Elijah around for that project.  Isaiah and Bethel will just have to burly-up.


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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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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.


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Wild weeks

There’s no other way to put it—these last two weeks have been unlike any other. Combining our household with that of the family evacuated by the fire was hugely challenging. I think if it had just been adults, it would not have been a big deal, but I vastly underestimated the kid issues. Our house is big, but very open and a challenge, under normal circumstances, for those of my family who need quiet and privacy to recharge! A couple times I just packed up my kids and took them off for the day, regardless of chores. The house got messier, but I think it was probably good for our family and theirs. On the flip side, we enjoyed far-too-late-night conversations with the couple and are really happy that we were in a position to help out. Their new baby boy was born this Thursday night, after about three days of on-again off-again labor. Issues with the birth and the baby caused them to decide to take mom and baby to the hospital about two hours after he was born. When it became evident that it would be a longer stay than the couple of hours they had hoped for, they decided to move the kids to a relative’s apartment near the hospital and that they would then move directly home again after all the medical issues were resolved. And so most of their stuff was moved out on Friday night—the rest will go when they move back home. Anyhow, after spending two weeks with them all, even in the midst of enjoying a little more space, privacy and quiet, I find myself wondering and worrying about them a lot and feeling like something is missing. Throughout this experience, a scripture kept running through my head, “think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all…” When I teach this to my kids I emphasize the connection between familiar and family and that we are to treat everyone as if they were family. Perhaps these feelings are evidence of having approached that end.

And now to the mundane records and details of these weeks.

Joseph got along with their boys for about three days and then decided that he’d had enough, so we always had to have someone watching him closely, often holding him, and sometimes in an entirely different room from the others—which is extremely challenging with an open floor plan (an awful design for a house that is nearly always occupied by a large family, in my most humble opinion). The baby gate was often used to keep kids away from each other instead of out of rooms where they shouldn’t be. Anyways, with a Fall garden not yet planted and a little boy who could no longer play nicely, I decided to try to plant with him. It went okayish. I think he mangled my rows of Chioggia beets—I will either have gaps or crazy spacing in one section, and he fell and whacked his head on a planter box at one point—a lovely shade of green today, but for the most part he enjoyed being outside, digging in the dirt and eating tomatoes straight off the plants and I managed to get carrots, beets, radishes and the rest of the leeks (leek seed is only good for one year, so I figured it would be better to get tiny baby leeks than no leeks at all) planted. I still need to label and mulch the rest of the beets, but that’s one bed down, two more to go!

I harvested 28 more lbs of eggplant just two weeks after I harvested that other 25! I made two large, eggplant-heavy meals (Moussaka and Ratatouille) for this giant household and then sliced and dehydrated the rest. Between everything I have frozen, pickled, makdoused and now dehydrated, when the world all comes crashing down, we will surely be eating eggplant. And I think we need to revisit the number of eggplant plants we put in next year.

The jalapeno peppers are also coming on thick and fast. Elijah’s promises to keep up all swimming in salsa haven’t yet materialized, so I started two pints of peppers fermenting this week. I was going to try a whey ferment, but after talking to the mom of the family staying with us about her whey fermenting experience I decided just to brine them. For my future records, I used one scant Tablespoon of salt per pint of sliced peppers (perhaps eight peppers to a jar?). I messed up on the second jar and initially filled it with instant hot water instead of filtered water. I dumped it out and re-filled and salted the jar, but if one is softer and perhaps saltier than the other, that may be the reason behind it. I believe I started them on Wednesday, the 23rd, so they’ll need to be checked this Wednesday….not sure how I’m going to do that… As we have approximately a million more coming ripe, I think drying is next.

I am also drying the rest of our not-very sweet corn. After about the third time of being disappointed by the corn, I could no longer get anyone to go out and pick and husk it anymore, so a bunch of it has been drying on the stalk. I pulled the last of it off, gave a couple damaged ears to the chickens and pulled back the husks of the others to finish drying. Right now I wish I had exposed beams in my kitchen ceiling from which I could hang all my dried and drying foods.

Finally, I think we missed the potato harvest time (newbies). It appears that the potatoes are re-sprouting. Yay. We’ll try to catch it this next time around.

And I canned a second batch of pears. It was one of my worst canning sessions in a while. Two jars broke and one failed to seal. I either offended the capricious gods of canning, or else missed something because I was really tired that morning, I don’t know. If it is the former, I hope that they are happy with the toll they exacted and will allow me to can applesauce in peace come October.

And the last of the news is that Bud’s castration was only half successful (woohoo) and so we are desperately trying to sell him while he can either still be wethered (I’m definitely not up to doing such a big goat) or eaten before he starts getting smelly. Of course, if someone wants a buck, he is a purebred Nubian, he seems very much interested in buck-ish duties (we have had to separate him from the ladies) and he is a great price. We are hoping someone will be able to benefit in some way from our mistake so we will not have to feel quite so embarrassed by it.


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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.