What A Day! or OMG!

This could only happen in California.

Ray and I are always checking out Craigslist to see if there is anything we need for our future homestead at a discounted price.  When we saw that someone was selling water storage tanks for more than half the price we would pay for new, Ray called the seller right away, and made arrangements to pick them up the next day.  The tanks were located several miles down the road from our future homestead, so we figured it would be easy to get the tanks into the truck, one at a time, and take up to our property.

We use the tanks to store rainwater collected off  the metal toolshed roof and also the metal outhouse roof, which during the summer, waters our orchard automatically with zero pressure, battery run timers.  If you would like to see our system, click HERE.

The next afternoon we set off with cash to meet the seller.   It takes about 1-1/2 hours to get from our current home in the valley up to our future homestead and we arrived about four o’clock in the afternoon at the bottom of the road to meet the seller, then followed him up the hill to his property. When we drove through his gate, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a HUGE marijuana field.

Yup!

Smack Dab!

The seller and his girlfriend explained that they had just bought the tanks the previous month, because their well had gone dry and were getting water trucked in, but now they were harvesting and no longer needed the tanks. He went on to say that they were harvesting a bit early because they didn’t trust their landlord, who seemed a bit shady and scary to them.

Oh.     Okay.

Right in front of us were the tanks, pretty brand spankin new.  In fact, the insides still smelled like new plastic and the purchase tags were still on the outside of the tank. The larger tank was 1,100 gallons – just like the other three that we already have on the future homestead.  The other was 550 gallons.  We had just paid about $650 for a 1,100 gallon tank a few months ago, and this guy was asking only $400… for both.  Cash (of course).

Ummmm Hummmm.

Just then a helicopter flew overhead very slow and very low.

All we could think of was that these guys were going to get busted RIGHT NOW and we would get caught in the middle!  They might think we were buyers!!!

“Well no, officer….  you see, we were just here to buy water tanks”.

The seller could see our nervousness and laughed, saying that they fly over several times a day, but that he was perfectly legal according to California laws, and that we shouldn’t worry.

R i i i i i i ght.

We handed him the $400 and loaded up the smaller tank so fast it would have made your head spin.  We left quickly (the truck engine was still running) explaining that we would be back within the hour for the second tank. It only took about twenty minutes to get up to our property.  We unloaded the small tank, grabbed some ramps we had to make it easier to roll the large tank into the back of the truck (we actually bought them to load the quad into the back of the truck, but have found them handy for a number of other reasons), and then took the ladder rack off the truck so the larger tank would fit in sideways. Within thirty-five minutes we were driving back up the road to get the other tank.

An 1,100 gallon water storage tank fits nicely into the back of our F150 truck - without the ladder rack.

An 1,100 gallon water storage tank fits nicely into the back of our F150 truck – without the ladder rack.  Of course, you MUST strap it down or it can blow out.  Go ahead – ask me how I know!

When we got about 100 feet from the gate going into the seller’s property, we saw that the road was blocked by two cars full of the roughest looking guys you have ever seen.  They ignored us at first, then reluctantly moved their cars so we could get by.  We waved and thanked them but avoided eye contact.  When we got to the seller’s gate, however, we could see that it was closed, chained and padlocked!  Oh no – had we been scammed?!  We already gave the guy the cash (nervousness can make you stupid), but we didn’t get the bigger, more expensive tank! On top of that, there were two pit bulls and two German shepherds circling our truck.

Just wait – this gets better!

That’s when things really started to get sticky.  Ray got out of the truck (the pit bulls started  wagging their tails) and walked through the gate, into the property.  Afterall, we wanted our water tank!  He was able to catch the attention of the seller’s girlfriend, who came over and explained she had locked the gate because the guys down the road (the ones we saw in the cars) were scaring her.  She was afraid they might try to take her “crop” and she was there by herself.

Unfortunately, she didn’t have a key to the gate, but said her boyfriend would be back soon with the key. That’s okay, we said.  We’ll wait.  A few minutes later, one of the cars that had blocked the road pulled up, and inside was a woman along with three of the thugs we had seen about 10 minutes earlier.  The woman got out of the car, introduced herself as the “landlord” and explained that the seller and his girlfriend were renting the land from her.  She questioned who we were and when we told her we were buying the water tanks, she seemed satisfied with our answer and left with her carload of thugs.  A few minutes later the seller came back and unlocked the gate.

We drove in to the property where our large tank was and discovered that there was still at least a foot of water in it.  Water weighs about 8 pounds per gallon, so you can imagine that there was no way we were going to be able to move this tank until it was empty.  The seller appologized (he though it was already empty) got a sump pump and started pumping out the tank, while we stood around and chit-chatted.  I did learn a little bit about his “crop”.  What was especially interesting was the fact that he said he had about 50 plants (looked like a lot more than that to me), which required approximately 1,400-1,600 gallons of water per week.

PER WEEK!  No wonder his well went dry!

At our home in the valley, we are only allowed to use water outside two times a week, along with quite a few other restrictions, and this guy is using at least 1,400 gallons of water PER WEEK on a marijuana crop! At our valley home our water is on a meter and we pay for every drop. But this guy could use as much water as his well would pump.  We have been reading reports about how some commercial marijuana growers are diverting creeks and streams for their crops, which is causing serious environmental disasters here in California. It wasn’t such a problem several years ago, but now that we are in a serious drought, the problem of illegal growers killing fish populations by draining and polluting streams and lakes is coming to the forefront.  Unfortunately, these lakes and streams are also where our drinking water supply comes from.

Don’t misunderstand – I am not totally against using marijuana as a medicinal herb if you really need it.  But, I believe these big commercial grows are wrong.  Just sayin’ ;)

So, as we were finally getting the big tank loaded up, the seller tells us how they think their landlord is trying to “bump them off” so she could have their crop, and that they had been hearing strange noises at night.  They pointed out five trailers that had been left on the property by the previous “farmers”, full of clothes, food, etc., and wondered if they had left in such a hurry they couldn’t take their belongings.

Well… who do you think shows up just then?  The landlord! The seller met her out of hearing range, but it was evident that they were not happy with each other.  Luckily the thugs stayed in the car.  In the meantime, his girlfriend quietly retreated into their trailer.  Ray and I put our heads down and tried to pay attention to our own business, rolling the tank onto it’s side so the last of the water was poured out, and positioning the tank where it could be rolled up into the truck.  Just then, the girlfriend came out of their trailer with an AK-47 strapped across her shoulder, and started walking through the “farm” as if she were guarding a prison gate!

Seriously!  Cross my heart, this is a true story!

We were no longer nervous at this point, we were just plain scared.  What had we gotten ourselves into?  It was time to go. The tank wasn’t completely empty, but we muscled that sucker into the back of the truck anyway! Ray and the seller shook hands, we hopped into the truck and pulled out of the “farm” onto the driveway, afraid that the road would be blocked again.  It wasn’t. Whew!  I don’t think I actually took a breath until we got to the end of the road and turned onto the highway to get up to our future homestead!

Water Storage System

Here is the smaller tank – 550 gallons. It was in excellent, almost new, condition.

Will we ever do that again?  HECK NO!

Storage System for Rainwater Collection

We placed the 550 gallon tank above an 1,100 gallon tank, so it can refill the lower tank, for a total of 1,650 gallons of water to irrigate the orchard.  That’s not counting an 1,100 gallon rainwater collection tank behind our tool shed and another 1,100 gallon tank behind the outhouse.

But we did get some nice water storage tanks for $400! :D

We now have four 1,100 gallon tanks, one 550 gallon tank and another 325 gallon tank for a total of 5,275 gallons of water storage space!  This should be plenty of water to get the orchard through our arid California summers.  We will also provide a map of our property and placement of our tanks with our local CalFire office, just in case they need it to fight a wildfire on our property.

So, what do you think – are we crazy or not!

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Our Storage Solution

This will be home sweet home while we build our new house.

This will be home sweet home while we build our new house.

We will be living in our camping trailer for two years while we build our new home on our future homestead.  As most of you know, there isn’t a lot of storage in a trailer.  We could rent a storage space for our furniture and household items, but that just seemed inconvenient since there will be times we need items that are in storage, and the nearest storage rentals are at least 45 minutes from our property.  It can also be costly.  Sheesh…  we could buy all new furniture for the price it would take to store it for a couple of years!

Then we saw a cargo shipping container that our dear neighbors Linda and Charles had delivered to their property and knew immediately that this was a perfect solution to our storage issues. After some investigating, we found that we could have one delivered to our property for about $2,400 all in.  It used to cost a lot less just a few years ago, but lately the  price of these containers have gone up because of demand. Here in California, lots of pot growers use the containers as sleeping quarters for their “trimmers” or drying sheds for their “crop”.

When our home is built and all of our furniture and household items have been moved from the container into the new house, we can then store our wood chipper/shredder, log splitter, shop tools, etc., in the cargo container.

Of course, if the zombie apocalypse happens anytime soon, we could also use it as a safe room! :D

Cargo Container Storage Solution

This spot was fairly level, almost always shady, and had only a few trees that needed to be removed.

Before we had the container delivered, we needed to prepare a level place to put it!  It needed to be near the orchard, tool shed and our travel trailer, so we found a spot under tall pine, oak and fir trees that will shade the container, yet was fairly level.

The first order of business was to cut down a few small trees and remove the stumps.  Whew – easier said than done.  Beside the fact that all woodcutting was supposed to be done before 11AM (restrictions placed by CalFire because of high fire danger), we happened to be in the middle of a major heat wave for the first couple of weekends we worked.  So, we cut down the trees, then futher cut them into 18-ish inch long pieces for firewood before 11 AM, then spent the rest of the day bucking brush and stacking the firewood.

Shipping Container Storage Solution

Old stumps were broken up with a pick and axe, later to be ground up into mulch.

After all of the stumps were out and the ground had been raked fairly level (we did everything by hand with pick axe, shovel and rake!) it was time to define the landing pad for our cargo container.  The four corners were staked and extra dirt was brought in to level out the low spots. We used landscape timbers reinforced with rebar for the walls and filled the low spots with dirt from the high spots. This is the same technique Ray used when he built the retaining walls with landscape timbers where our travel trailer now sits.  If you would like to see how a retaining wall can be built with landscape timbers, check out this post HERE. Since we got the landscape timbers pretty cheap (on sale at Home Depot at $1.49 each – we bought a pallet!), in the end, the whole project ended up requiring a lot more muscle than money.  You should see my biceps!

I had to show this picture of Louie, our neighbor's dog. It was so hot when we were constructing the pad for the cargo container, that he would lay in each hole we dug around the stumps to remove them, so that he could absorb the cool earth.  Smart dog!

I had to show this picture of Louie, our neighbor’s dog. It was so hot when we were constructing the pad for the cargo container, that he would lay in each hole as we dug around the stumps to remove them, so that he could absorb the cool earth. Smart dog!

Cargo Container storage

The landscape timbers being installed.

We set three concrete blocks (six at the lowest corner) into each of the four corners.  This is what the cargo container corners will sit on.  Rebar was pounded about two feet into the ground and concrete was poured into the holes, holding in the rebar and reinforcing the blocks.  The cargo container weighs about 5,700 pounds empty, so we wanted to beef up the landing pad as much as possible.

Using a cargo container as storage

Concrete pads in, retaining walls up, dirt level… Ready for some gravel rock!

Cargo Container Storage

There’s Louie again on the cool rock. It sure was a hot summer! After the rock was raked level, we were ready to have the cargo container delivered! Yippee!

Then came the rock.  Ray hired an independent contactor (he was retired, but had his own dump truck and worked when he needed extra money) who brought up ten yards of road base gravel for a very reasonable price. He said he would bring us a “fat load” and he certainly did!  We ended up with a lot more rock than we anticipated, so we used the extra to begin rocking our driveway.  Our county will not issue building permits until the road to the build site is at least twelve feet wide, cleared fifteen feet high, and completely rocked, so with this extra gravel, we are actually on our way to getting our building permit!

Well…  sort of! ;)

Large Storage Solution using Cargo Shipping Container

It wasn’t easy for the driver to get his rig turned around and backed into the spot we had prepared, but eventually he did, and placed it exactly where we wanted it to be!

The day for delivery of the cargo container finally arrived last week.  We were so excited! The delivery driver had a bit of a tough time getting turned around so he could back into the site, but once he did, the container slid right into place.  Perfect!

We didn’t waste any time getting some things into the container.  As we are preparing our home in the valley to sell, we are trying to “de-clutter” and so we already have a few truckloads to fill into the container.  Once the house is sold, we will bring up the rest of the furniture we are keeping for the new house, and selling off all the rest!Shipping Container for storage

We are so excited that the time is getting nearer for us to move up to our future homestead and start building our new home.  As I look at the house plans, I can’t help but dream about our future.  I hate to admit it, but I have already named all of my chickens (Beulah, Melba, Phyllis and Pearl), though I don’t have them yet and the coop is still only a plan on paper!

Ah well, a girl can dream, can’t she?

 

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Rendering Lard – Two Ways

Wendy, my daughter-in-law, has a dear friend, Spring, who is developing a sustainable farm that includes goats, chickens and pigs.  Spring is an RN who is interested in naturopathic remedies, especially essential oils, and is also busy with her four children.  She recently had her two hogs butchered and saved the fat.  When my daughter-in-law mentioned that I was rendering tallow to make soap, Spring wondered if I would like to have the pig fat to render into lard.  Yes Please!  :)  Thanks, Spring!

When I got the hog fat, it was separated into two different bags, each hog’s fat in it’s own bag. Spring was nice enough to have it frozen for me, so all I had to do was pop it into my ice chest and take it home, where I could thaw it in our outside refrigerator just in case it got stinky. ;)  Then, just like when I rendered some beef fat into tallow, I did quite a bit of research on the internet to see how other people render their hog fat into lard and found quite a few different ways to do it!  I decided to try rendering the lard two different ways and see which method I liked best.how to render lard

The first method involved using my crock pot.  Since the crock pot delivers an even but low heat, it was recommended that the fat be ground up first.  I took out my handy-dandy Kitchen Aid, and with the grinder attachment and began grinding hog fat pieces.  Almost   immediately the machine bogged down and balked, and I barely had a cup of the fat ground up when I had to turn the machine off so that it wouldn’t overheat!  Then I cleaned out the cutting plate and realized that the fat still had quite a bit of skin left on (not always easy to see), and this was clogging the machine.  I continued to grind the hog fat after cutting off the skin.  But the machine still balked, so I ended dicing up the last of the fat.

rendering lardBefore the ground up fat was placed in the crockpot, about 1/2 cup of water was put in first (this prevents scorching of the fat, but evaporates off as the lard is rendered) and the crockpot was allowed to heat up on the lowest setting.  After the water in the crockpot was hot, I poured the pig fat in, placed the lid on and left it for about 1/2 hour.  I then gave it a good stir, and left the fat to render another 1/2 hour.  After a hour, I could see that there was 1/2 liquid fat and 1/2 still clear white solid fat, so I let it go for another hour, checking on it and stirring about every 10-15 minutes.

Once the solid pieces began to turn just a slight shade of beige-orange, I knew the lard had been rendered enough and it was time to separate the liquid lard from the solids. Apparently if you let the little solid pieces brown with the fat, the lard will be darker and take on a “piggy” smell.how to render lard in a crockpot  Since I eventually want to make soap and pastries with the lard, this would not be acceptable. Again, after roaming around on Google, I found that there are quite a few ways to strain the impurities out, and I decided to use the coffee filter method for this batch.  As you can see from the picture (click on any picture to make it bigger), I laid an unbleached coffee filter in a large strainer, and placed that over a funnel in a canning jar. The fat strained easily through the filter and was crystal clear with a light yellow tinge to it in the jar!  I ended up with  about 1-1/2 pints of lard from that batch.  Once the lard had cooled in the refrigerator, it was as white as snow!rendering lard

The second method was much quicker.  The fat was diced into fairly small pieces, placed into a pot with about 1/2 cup of water, then set over a medium low flame.  I could hear the fat start to crackle almost immediately, and I realized this method was going to involve a bit rendering lard how to more tending to than the crock pot method required, with constant stirring to prevent scorching.  With this method, the fat was rendered to about the same stage as the crock pot method in just 20-ish minutes! In fact, it happened so fast I forgot to look at the clock! One thing that I forgot to mention is the salt.  I read in a few books and a couple of blogs that it’s important to add some salt while the rendering is taking place, so that the resulting lard will be more solid and make harder soaps.  Therefore, I added one teaspoon of sea salt to each batch before I started rendering.how to render lard in a crockpot I brought the rendering pot inside to separate the fat from the impurities, and decided to use the hot water method for this batch.  With the hot water method, a strainer is placed over a bowl of almost boiling hot water, and the rendered fat is poured into the strainer.  The impurities in the fat that go through the strainer simply fall down into the water while the clean fat floats on top. After a night in the refrigerator, the lard had solidified into a solid white disc, which I froze for future use.crockpot rendering

WORDS OF CAUTION:

First:  It stinks.  Seriously.  Don’t render fat in your house if you can help it.  If you do render in the house, use your exhaust fan on high.

Second:  Rendered fat is hot.  Boiling hot!  Be careful around children, dogs, bare legs and feet!

Third:  DON”T clean your pots and pans in the sink without wiping them out first! Lard and/or tallow will clog your pipes!

Fourth:  It’s fun and you will get hooked.  Your friends and family will look at you strangely when you ask them to save all their beef or hog fat for you.

freshly rendered lard strained through an unbleached coffee filter - light pale yellow yet clear!

Freshly rendered lard strained through an unbleached coffee filter.  It starts out light pale yellow, yet clear, then cools to snow white creamy lard!

My verdict?  I prefer the quick method of rendering.  It just took too long to grind the fat and the clean-up was much more involved!  It was simple enough to just dice the cold fat up (skin and all), throw it into the pot and render on medium low heat for 20-30 minutes.  I may try dicing up the fat like I did for the pot, yet rendering it in the crockpot.  We’ll see.

My choice for getting the impurities out of the fat was the method using the coffee filter and strainer.  It just seemed a lot easier because the filtered fat went straight into jars, ready for the fridge, without much trouble.  The other method of pouring the fat through hot water took more time and effort because it was necessary for the fat to form a solid disc before it could be taken out of the bowl with the water.  Also, there was still a thin layer of those “impurities” that stuck to the underside of the fat disc and I had to scrape them off.

how to render lardWhat will I do with the lard?  First, I would like to make soap.  I have sensitive skin and get “the itchies” quite often after a bath or shower if I don’t get every trace of chemical off my body.  Chemical?  Yes.  Most soaps purchased in retail stores include substances such as  polyquaternium-6, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, pentasolium pentetate…., well, just look at the label in the picture above!  Now, go ahead and read what’s in yours.  You will probably be shocked. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather use soap made with just four or five ingredients:  lard (or tallow), olive oil, sodium hydroxide, and essential oils! Since I am trying (really hard) to be a locavore, I prefer not to use coconut or palm kernel oil.  Though those are wonderful, silky, lather producing oils, they are not produced locally, which raises their carbon footprint which renders them non-sustainable.

The other use for lard is, of course, in cooking.  I am going to make a pie crust for my first cooking experiment with the lard. I must admit that I have never cooked with lard before because I was afraid of it.  Cholesterol!  Hardening of the arteries!  Triglycerides!  All that stuff.  Now we find out that the alternatives (margarine, canola oil and partially hydrogenated anything) are worse than the good old fashioned lard!  It’s time to get back to basics, folks, and eat real food.

Besides, I hear lard makes a delectable, flaky, golden brown crust, and when it comes to pie, I’m all about the crust!

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We Have Walnuts – and Pears!

Three years ago we planted our first walnut tree up on the future homestead.  Then, two years ago we planted another.  Walnuts are notorious for taking a long time to produce a crop, but here we are with our first walnuts!First crop of Walnuts

Yeah.  I know.  We only got seven walnuts – but it’s a start!

Actually, we only have five walnuts because two of them weren’t ready to harvest yet.  The walnut husk has to split open to release the nut, and these two weren’t ready to be released yet…

First Walnut Harvest

These two walnuts weren’t ready to be harvested. You can see, however, a crack starting to develop on the husk!

The walnuts will be an important source of protein on our homestead, along with animal protein from our eggs, chicken and fish. Walnuts are just chock full of nutrients, and walnut oil is prized among many gourmet chefs. We also planted an almond tree last year (we have purchased all of our fruit and nut trees from Peaceful Valley Nursery), but have three more almond trees in pots that Mother Nature gave us this past spring.  They came as volunteer almond trees that grew from seed our mature almond tree dropped last fall!

Walnut and Pear Spice Cake

A giant pear at the Kelseyville Pear Fair!

This past weekend we attended the Pear Festival in Kelseyville, California (which is near Clear Lake), with some dear friends of ours.  This was such a quaint small town affair and we had a lot of fun. First, we watched a parade with some beautiful horses, a mariachi band, and some awesome vintage cars. Apparently the local high school was hosting their homecoming game that afternoon, so the individual class floats – all themed after Dr. Seuss books – were a highlight of the parade.  After the parade we walked down the main street of town and visited booth after booth of handmade and specialty items for sale.  We ate some delicious tamales for lunch and noshed on pear ice cream for dessert.  Before we left, we bought two large bags of pears.

Walnut tree's first crop

The pears made a nice little display with some of my pie birds. So colorful!

The yellow round pears are Asian Pears, but unfortunately I forgot which variety they were.  They are sweet and firm with a wonderful crispness.  The red pears are called Starkrimson. Ray and I have never tried this variety before, so we decided to get a bag and have a taste. I did some research when I got home about the Starkrimson pear, and apparently they turn from a deep almost burgundy red to a brighter fire engine red when ripe.  The bag we brought home only had one that was ripe, which is great because we can eat the pears every other day or so as they ripen. My verdict of Starkrimson?  These pears are heavenly.  Very sweet, juicy and with a finer texture than a Bartlett.  I think they will make a great toasted walnut, blue cheese and pear salad!  In fact, the newly harvested walnuts just might be just enough for a nice salad. :D

Three walnuts from our first harvest.

Three of the seven walnuts from our first harvest.

To celebrate our first walnut harvest and to use some of the Asian Pears, I decided to bake a Cake.  I got a recipe from Food Network called Pear Walnut Spice Cake.  I chose this one because it called for 2 cups of diced pears, 1 cup of chopped walnuts, and 1 cup of raisins – along with cinnamon, cloves and allspice.  Mmmmmm……  it sounded so good!  The glaze was made with powdered sugar and maple syrup.  The result?

Kelseyville Pear Festival

Since pears and walnuts are fall harvested crops, I thought it would be appropriate to display the cake next to my fall vignette on the dining room table.

……….A really good cake!

The cake itself was fairly heavy – like a fruitcake with a melt in your mouth “crust”, but the pears were moist, and the walnuts had a yummy roasted flavor.  The raisins added just enough twang and it all paired very well with the spices.  This one was a winner and I will bake it again and again! Here is a link to the recipe:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/pear-walnut-spice-cake.html

We haven’t planted a pear tree on our future homestead yet, but plan to get one of those multi-graft trees that have several varieties on one tree.  These are great because you don’t have to worry about pollination issues, although usually the fruit will ripen at different times which extends the harvest season.  If I had my choice, I would get a Bartlett Pear, a D’Anjou and our new favorite, Starkrimson!

I was also looking at a few recipes for pear pie.  I would like to try the Starkrimson in a pie to see how it holds up with baking.  Do you have a good pear pie recipe?  If you do, please feel free to post a link in the comments below!

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