Consecration Acres

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


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Scrambling

So many weeks out sick means that we are incredibly behind on everything. We started the flu with all our planting just ahead of us. We end it with, “rats…is it too late to…?” I am trying to just keep working through it in a reasonable way, but I often feel like my head is going to explode. Still, being crazy beats being sick!

I finally went out and finished the orchard pruning. Bethel seems to have a knack for it. When I was undecided, she would advise, and did so well. I asked her how she knew what to do and she said that she’d seen well-pruned trees before. And I spent hours reading about it! She’s such a many-gifted girl. I hope she can learn to delight in the good work that her gifts could lead to.

One of our peach trees is oozing gelatinous stuff. I have read that it could be the result of bacterial canker, borers or “growing pains” in young trees. I am really hoping for the third option.

Also, I really need to sharpen my pruning shears. Those last cuts were far from beautiful.

I went out and picked up our bare root trees as well as some grape vines. I was hoping to buy a couple more cherry trees while we were there, but they were long gone. The good news was that the grapes were ½ off, so I was able to get a couple more than I had planned. We are just waiting on the last mail order now. We sure have a lot of planting to do…

Garden bed building is stalled out for now until my husband can scratch out some time to work on it. And on my part it is hard to get excited about expending effort on seed-starting when I’m not sure when there will be beds to plant things in. If only we both had super-powers and required no sleep. I am sure that the Incredibles always get their garden in on time.

incredible garden

Yeah, I thought so…

And we’ve got to get Penny ultrasounded. If she is pregnant, it is time to dry her up. If she is not, I want to de-worm her using the non-pregnant goat stuff. She’s looking thinner than I like to see her.

I finally got the zucchini relish made and canned. Important note to me: get help! It looked pretty straightforward, just some zucchini, peppers and onions, but I found that there is nothing “just” about mincing 14 zucchini, 10 peppers and 8 (apologies to my non-onion-eating family—I feel you wincing) onions. Even with the food processor, it was slow. The zucchini had to be processed one at a time, carefully, lest they puree, and to be scraped down twice. The peppers and onions could go in two at a time, but that’s still 9 rounds. The kids were all delighted with the results, but the little red hen needs to get the other barnyard animals involved in this food project next time.

Other stuff in the kitchen this week: delicious butter (I need to order that splatter guard for my KitchenAid—this is so ridiculous), really dry mozzarella (I still have a baby…) and ricotta. We just went out and bought a bunch of oranges. I may attempt marmalade this week.

The wisdom of having both a farmer and a farmwife is brought home to me from time to time. Caring for plants, trees and animals is really one job and turning it all into eatables and usables is another. With my big boys and mod cons I can almost make it work some times, but it sure isn’t pretty.

And join us in praying and fasting for rain next weekend.  We have about half of what we need for a “normal” rainy season.  Less than that just deepens this drought.

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Three going on four

…weeks of being sick over here. I went down the 22nd and Isaiah, the last man standing, was doing the fever and chills thing today. It’s all been thoroughly lousy, but the worst was little Joseph over the weekend. For about 72 hours he was only sleeping 20-40 minutes at a stretch, running a pretty good fever and occasionally refusing to nurse for hours at a time. We were a pretty wretched pair for a while. The fever broke up gradually—on-again off-again on Sunday and then finally gone for good sometime that night. Monday morning I felt like I had awakened from a really long nightmare—every time I looked at Joseph (who was finally starting to look and act like Joseph again) I felt like crying and I kept hugging him till his eyes nearly bugged out. Fortunately, he thinks it’s funny to get squeezed. Oh, the agony of sick babies… I am hoping to be quit of this soon.

Our super-early Spring marches on whether or not we are ready for it. My husband and the well-ish kids put together about ½ of one of the garden beds yesterday. We have lots more to go. I actually spent a little time yesterday to finally run the numbers to determine how much bed space it would take to feed our crew for a full year. Ready? 470’ of 4’ wide beds AND 480’ of 18” wide beds (for vertical crops, if we decide to go that route). Whee. The biggest space hogs? Peas, at 120’x18” and watermelons at 72’x4’. If we didn’t love them, we’d just skip them.

Before Joseph got sick I was starting to feel a bit better and actually turned some on-sale roma tomatoes into marinara and (drumroll) I canned it in the pressure canner. I bought that silly thing about eight years ago and was too nervous about it ever to use it. Well, got that out of the way now. I am now ready for a thousand feet of vegetable garden. Our gas range is less powerful than I wish it were, so I was worried that I might not be able to maintain good pressure, but it all went swimmingly and I actually had to keep a good eye on it to keep it from getting too high. And the sauce is great. I’ll make more as the tomatoes present themselves.

I also stuck some sweet potatoes in water in hopes that they’ll send up lots of green shoots that we can then root and plant.  They haven’t done much yet.  I may be a little impatient.

Our bare root stuff has been arriving. My prayer now is that we can get it into the ground before it all dies in the heat. We also have trees, etc to go pick up at our nursery. They’ve been there for the last three weeks! And I still have all the trees to finish pruning before they start blooming! We’ve got to get well.


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Grateful

I am grateful to have a really sick family during a time when we have adequate shelter and clothing.

I am grateful we can rest and set aside most inside and outside chores until we are well again.

I am grateful for abundant clean water and indoor plumbing.

I am grateful for the ability to cook our food without having to go outside.

I am grateful that on the worst days, it was easy and relatively cheap to buy prepared or mostly prepared food.

I am grateful that when I run out of herbs or other medical supplies, I can simply buy more.

I am grateful to have conventional medicine as a backup in case things get serious.

I am grateful for immune systems that can and will fight this thing off and that we won’t have to catch this particular bug again.  Bodies are amazing things.

I am grateful for rain that has been falling with just a few breaks since Friday!

The first of the bare root and our scythes arrived this week.  We look forward to a return to health so that we can put them to their intended uses!


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“So they were, VERY ill…”

Only we’ve not been drinking treacle, so it doesn’t seem quite so fair.

Elijah has had the worst of it as he had whatever he had until Thursday when he caught whatever I have.  I am still down, Jordan and Grace have had runny noses off and on, Joseph is a cipher and Bethel and Isaiah have not succumbed.  I am taking herbs religiously to avoid complications.  The lack of sleep thing definitely takes a toll on one’s resilience.  It’s hard to know where to draw the line–when to sleep and when to get up and push on.  Adulthood….

A week of illness means a week of getting next to nothing done.  We got seeds ordered and bare root stuff ordered and scythes ordered.  We also got a new table and chairs that are built rather like tanks (I think I’m about ready to stop spending money now!), but no seeds started or beds built.  Time is so relentless and unaccommodating.  I am trying not to get discouraged.

Here’s hoping and praying for a healthier and more productive week upcoming and that it is raining next time I write!  It’s in the forecast…


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Talking myself out of things and rain needed

We have been struck with illness the last couple of days. Mine is acting like a flu (fever, body aches, swollen glands) while Elijah’s is acting more like a severe cold (congestion, cough). I am praying that it stops with us, but bracing myself for a rough week.

In the groggy places between naps I am supposed to be getting the bare root berries ordered. We are pushing it again. (I hope some day we will be organized enough not to do this anymore….) I have talked myself out of trying to plant 100 or so more strawberry plants in addition to 400 feet of cane berries and grapes. Besides the planting, more strawberries would require more raised beds. Since we’re planning to put in at least 1000 (it may be a lot more than that…I was really foggy-brained last night when we ran the numbers) square feet of raised beds for the vegetable garden this year, I imagine this particular activity is not going to be at the top of anyone’s want-to-do list in the near future. Next year will be fine. I’m even considering skipping putting in blueberries and “blueberries” (serviceberries, honeyberries and other substitutes that might do better here) this year. That one is harder to talk myself out of.

As I look out of my back windows onto a yard taken over by poultry, I am also talking myself out of getting more hens when we order our meat flock. I am having to resist the siren song of Golden Laced Wyandottes (oooh, pretty feathers) and Black Copper Marans (oooh, pretty eggs) and Olive Eggers (more pretty eggs). Let this be a warning to all—buying chickens can become an addiction.

We have been looking into buying an old treadle sewing machine for a while. I like the fact that they were built before planned obsolescence became a thing and that the treadle can provide power to a sewing machine or to other machines with a bit of rigging. I have a couple I am looking at and came across this site with a series of step-by-step questions to help identify Singer models. Nifty. This one’s also pretty good, as this was exactly what I was trying to do.  And then this was good in helping me to decide which ones were worth pursuing.  Although, honestly, probably any of these models, in good condition, would be many times better than the one I’ve got now—and I like my machine, I could just do without all the plastic parts.

In my craigslist searches I’ve had to talk myself out of a pretty awesome 10-treadle loom that popped up under “treadle”. The seven hours of drive time significantly hacked into its appeal. Not to mention the untold hours of learning to use it, acquire or make fiber to weave, etc. Maybe if we had super-long, non-gardening winters here. Not now, not now, not now…

Our neighbor with full-size construction equipment came out and did an initial rough-level of the area where we are going to put in the beds. He confirmed that that area was nearly dirt-less and that we’d made a good choice not trying to rehabilitate the (lack of) soil into garden plots. My husband’s initial estimates put concrete block beds slightly less expensive than wood. Fine, but I wish that blocks were also slightly less heavy. I need to find someone that will deliver them by the pallet.

After a satisfyingly soggy December, our January has been entirely rainless. We keep having little flickers of 10%-chance-of-rain off five days in the future that evaporates before we get there. Bad for us and bad for everyone else as California is the source of much of the country’s food. Join us in prayer.


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Christmas Past and Opening Jars

So Christmas came and went. It always seems to come on in a rush and leave an abundance of mess and chaos in its wake. I would like to figure out how to make it less so, but perhaps that is just the reality of Christmas with kids. We also had an excellent reminder of why we do not usually eat sugar at our house. Jordan broke out in a horrible rash and Grace went wandering around the house murmuring “where is the candy?” for a good portion of the day we got rid of it. Bleagh. We are all ready for a diet of leafy greens.

In the midst of it all, I did spend time reflecting on the life and ministry of my Savior. I think I learned a bit about Him from reading of His temptations. He was tempted to turn stones into bread and refused to do so. For me, this would not be a temptation as I cannot turn stones into bread when I am hungry. Christ could have, but He chose not to, so that He could thoroughly and completely understand me and help me in my weak, limited, mortal life. I think that is a little bit of what it means when it says that He suffered more than mortal man could bear. He could have stopped all His suffering, struck down His enemies and saved and protected all those He loved, but He didn’t. At the point where all the rest of us would have done whatever we could, He chose not to, and chose instead to live with my pains, sorrows and limitations. What an amazing thing.

Now to shift from the sublime to the mundane…

We had our first hard freeze the week of Christmas. Insanely late, but better than last year. It has finally induced most of the fruit trees to drop their leaves and given me hope that we will be able to prune them. I say most, as there is one little apple tree out there still pretending that it is summer. I’m not sure if it’s the Fuji or the Pink Lady. Tenacious little thing.

I looked out the window on Christmas Eve morning and saw Ella waving her tail about crazily. This is called “flagging” and is a pretty good sign of a doe in heat! We rushed her over to our neighbor’s house and my husband was able to bring her home again after about ½ hour. Soooo, I need to update my calendar and put Ella down for kidding May 23-ish. And it is evident that I will need to be the one doing goat heat watch next Fall. The threat of no milk next year does not seem to be adequate incentive to be thorough and consistent for my farm boys. That’s four heat cycles missed!

My husband went and bought a trailer yesterday. Hurrah!! We can move goats about at will!

We still have ten more chickens to go, but we are going to have a warm, dry week, so this is it. And now we just need to decide whether we are going to do this again this upcoming year…

We broke into a jar of the doubly brined pickle-crisp-less dills. Yuck. They will be chicken food. Cucumbers are on sale this week for .18/lb so we will make more the right way.

We have decided, however, that the star anise cran-apple butter is really good. My husband, who is typically a pear butter devotee, has succumbed to its wiles.

The homemade marzipan was fantastic. I remember dividing up a single, pricey, imported loaf into small slices between our family members when I was a child. It was great to be able to eat as much as we wanted.

And, finally, I have begun putting together our seed order. I hope to have that in by the end of the week so we can start our eggplants, leeks and peppers by the 15th. This place just doesn’t allow for much let-up!

 


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Freezer-Clearing and Christmas Treats

December is when life is crazy busy, but there’s not much to write about. Every year I want to get the shopping done early, but every year there is something that prevents that from happening. I love giving gifts, but I hate shopping. Maybe it will all be nicer on that mythical day when I “have more time” and I can make more and buy less.   Anyhow, that’s done, the last 30 lbs of apples are being cooked into butter as I type and I’m finally getting to bake!

First up was pumpkin fruitcake. When we cleared out the freezers to make room for chickens (and we still don’t have the space!) I had to pull a batch of pumpkin butter out of there. Pumpkin butter is on the no-can list and it was only a mediocre recipe, so I decided to use that in place of canned pumpkin in the fruitcake. It was fabulous. I’ve used three pints so far and have two or three more to go. It’s a good thing we like it. I’d like to try making pumpkin butter again when we have the freezer space for it. This last recipe was too citrusy—I prefer my pumpkin earthy. I’m planning on cooking the squash to the right consistency and then adding the spices from my mom’s pumpkin pie recipe to an equivalent amount of butter.

Sometimes I feel like Winnie-the-Pooh coming up with an idea and then Owl evaluating it, “well, that sounds like a sensible idea…” Like my recent idea to see if I could make mango syrup from the pits and peels of the mangoes I dried. That turned out not to be so sensible an idea. Hopefully, my pumpkin butter idea is better.

I decided to mix it up a little this year and do a little candymaking. We are usually a pretty low-sugar family. On Christmas we let loose for a couple of days, but then we feel it horribly afterwards, so we made reduced-sugar marzipan, peanut butter cups and almond joys, in hopes that we can have our treats and good health as well. They turned out well and I have had to go to great lengths to make them fairly inaccessible so that we will still have some left on Christmas Day.

We are getting awesome amounts of rain and are very grateful! The pond is still very small and muddy, but growing. The grass is all green and the streams flowing and we are having to shift laundry days around to accommodate precipitation.   Last week we got more rain than we average for entire month of December! Bethel was saying that it didn’t feel very Christmassy without any snow—I continue to be delighted with what we are getting.

We are seasonably wet, but we have yet to freeze, so we ate cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden this week. We also have jalapenos out there. I suppose I ought to get brave and do something about them before they die. The peas are all hanging on to each other for support—not our intention, but it’s working ok for now. Most of the garlic came up, very little of the lettuce came up, and very little of the chard came up. Growth seems to have slowed with the lower temps, but the hardy stuff should pick up again in late February or March. Our seedbed needs improvement…among a vast array of other things that could and should be improved.

We are trying to eat down our meat freezer to make room for our remaining birds. I cooked up a couple chickens from the last batch. What a wildly different experience from a grocery store bird! First, they were actually roasted rather than stewed in the copious amount of liquid that a store bird exudes during cooking. We ended up with less than ½” nicely carmelized drippings at the end. Second, I made stock from the carcasses. It gelled up perfectly and there was no fat to skim at the end! The whole raising our own meat thing has been a mixed bag along the way, but I’m pretty pleased with the end result.

I just made my first batch of yogurt from frozen milk. It is really liquidy and smells a little different. I don’t know if it’s due to the milk, or just my starter being old. Further experiments required.

The goat situation makes me want to cry sometimes. Isaiah saw signs that Ella was in heat last week and neglected to tell anyone, Elijah wasn’t checking with the buck rag…yay…. I need to call the vet. Penny is a little early to find heart tones via ultrasound , so we might require two housecalls since we still don’t have a trailer….ugh, ugh, ugh and ugh again.

Elijah built a forge out of stones in the backyard and he and Isaiah have been whacking pieces of hot metal with hammers this week. Isaiah also recently completed an ear-warmer (top-less hat) that he proudly wears about. He spun the wool/mohair and then knit it himself. Bethel is getting books for Christmas as she complains she has read “everything” in the house and Jordan is just on the edge of the whole reading thing coming together. I utterly love homeschooling these people.

There is a young man with some significant disabilities who usually sits in the pew in front of us at Church. He sits and listens fairly quietly, and then he reaches his hand out to his father who shares the pew with him. His father reaches back, their fingertips touch briefly and the young man happily goes back to watching and listening. This repeats every few minutes over the course of the meeting. I recognize that I also play this role in the lives of my children. The frequency varies according to their needs, and sometimes it is verbal rather than physical, but they still all stop occasionally to make sure that I am “still there” along the way. It may not be very glamorous or exciting, but I’ve learned to find joy in being a fixed and stable point in their world. As I strive to become more consistent and reliable, I hope that this will make me more like my Heavenly Father—He whose hand is stretched out still, the same yesterday, today and forever.