Gravel Road Retaining Wall

One of the requirements to obtain a building permit in our county (among too many other requirements) is that we must have a gravel road for the contractors to drive on.  Four inches of gravel deep, 12 feet wide, with a 15 foot vertical clearance.  I suppose this is so that no one will get stuck on our property, or perhaps so that the building inspector won’t get his truck muddy, but graveling our road will be a major undertaking for us this summer if we want to get our building permit next spring.  Besides, it will also make it easier for us to drive on the muddy road after a snowstorm! 🙂

Gravel road retaining wall

This is the road inside our property leading up to our house. After a snowstorm it can get might muddy and slippery.

Oh, sure – we could just throw the gravel on the dirt road and be done with it.  The problem is that we don’t want gravel everywhere!  We have been to other houses in the area where the gravel seems to melt into the soil, migrate down slope with the rain, or bunch up in waves, leaving pot holes behind.  That’s not what we want.  We want our gravel to stay where we put it!

Gravel road retaining wall

These are some of the landscape timbers we bought. Those old fence boards? Just wait until you see what we do with those (hint: it’s another project we will be tackling next month!)

So, when we saw that our local home improvement store was selling their 8′ landscaping timbers for $1.49 each (that’s less than half the normal price) we went down and bought a pallet (72 timbers on a pallet)!  The plan is to line our driveway with a small retaining wall on either side made from the landscaping timbers – 2 high – to contain the gravel.

It also looks pretty! 🙂

We started installing the timbers on the lower half of our road this past weekend.  We already had about 25 of the timbers up on our future homestead from previous projects (you can see another taller retaining wall HERE) and with the pallet we had just bought, that brought our total of timbers up to almost 100.  Using 2 timbers high on each side of the road, that gets us 8 feet for every 4 timbers.  Therefore, we will need about 160 timbers total to go 300 feet.

Retaining wall for gravel

A hole was drilled through both timbers, then 2 foot long rebar was driven through timbers and into the ground, which makes a fairly stable retaining wall.

Along with the timbers, we also purchased two, 2 foot long 1/2″ rebar for each section.  Ray used a paddle drill to drill through the timbers two feet in from each end, then pounded the rebar through the timber and into the ground.  This makes each section pretty sturdy as there is more rebar below in the ground than above ground.  Once we get the gravel in, you won’t see much of the bottom level of timber, but it will be solid enough that my nieces Amanda and Allison can practice their balance beam skills on them!

After the retaining wall is done and the gravel is in place, Hubby will be able to use his trusty blower to blow all the debris (leaves, pine needles, etc.) off the road, to keep it looking neat and tidy!

Retaining wall for gravel road

Here is a section of the retaining wall done. Once the gravel is dumped and spread out, it’s not going anywhere!

Our plans for this spring, summer and fall include clearing a bunch of blackberry bramble for the raised bed vegetable garden, finishing the back road, completing the outhouse with a sink with running water, and getting the gravel road done.  Whew – I think our work is cut out for us this year!001

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Canning Beef & Recipes

Last month I shared my first experience canning salmon.  All things considered, I think it went very well. Now I want to try my hand at canning beef!

Armed with my Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and a Kindle e-book I bought called I Can Can Beef written by Jennifer Shambrook, Ph. D., I decided I would try the hot pack method versus cold pack.  With cold pack, all you do is cut your beef up into uniform 1″ chunks, pack it into the jar (no water or broth) and then process in a pressure canner the allotted time.  The beef will create it’s own broth within the jar, but will also shrink quite a bit.  I decided to hot pack because I want to add just a little bit of flavor with a beef broth, and hot packing avoids some (not all) meat shrinkage versus the cold pack method. You can research this and decide for yourself which method you will use.

Pressure canning beef chunksI cut all of my beef roast into 1″ cubes, trying to keep each piece as uniform in size as possible, cutting off as much fat as possible. The beef cubes were then browned in just a smidgen of oil on all sides.  This creates a little bit more flavor and also helps to shrink the meat a bit before it is canned. Once the beef is browned, I packed it into the jars – not too tight – then added my homemade beef broth with a little salt and pepper.   I could have just as easily added tomato juice or even red wine.  Canning beef in a pressure cookerOne word of caution:  when using the hot pack method, everything must be hot!  The jars need to be hot, the meat will be hot, the liquid must be hot and the water in the pressure canner should also be getting pretty hot by the time the jars are placed inside.  This is necessary to prevent thermal shock to the jar.  If the jar is exposed to large temperature differences very quickly, it might crack or even shatter.

You don’t want that to happen.      It’s not pretty.

One interesting idea I found in the I Can Can Beef book was a recipe for chili beans.  The author suggests that if you are canning beef and don’t have a full load for the canner, you can add dried beans in a jar with a few spices (her recipe is in the book), a little water and – voila you have some jars of chili beans to pressure cook alongside the beef!  If you are going to use the energy to can, you might as well have a full canner!  I had a lot of black turtle beans I grew last summer on my pantry shelf, so I made some chili beans with the black beans, following Dr. Shambrook’s recipe!

Pressure canned beef I followed the Ball Home Preserving Book recommendations and pressure canned the pint jars for 75 minutes after a full 10 minutes of venting.  I don’t have a dial gauge canner – mine uses a weighted gauge, which I put on 10 pounds of pressure, because our elevation here at our valley house is 55 feet above sea level. After the full processing time, I slid the canner to the opposite side of the stove, and left it to sit and cool down for a couple of hours.

Pressure Canning with Tattler Lids

A product that has sparked my interest lately has been the Tattler canning lids.  Unlike the conventional flat metal lids that must be thrown away after each use, Tattler Lids can be used many, many times.  This idea sounds great to me, because I just hate disposable things – with a passion! ♥  It is a bit harder to tell if you have a good seal with the Tattler lids, and you will never hear that “ping” to tell you the seal is complete.  Instead, the lid is rigid plastic with a separate rubber gasket, and the best way to tell if you have a good seal is to actually pick up the jar by the lid!  If it stays on – you are good to go! This was the first time I used a Tattler lid in the Pressure Canner.  As you can see from the above picture – I got a good seal!  I am really starting to like these lids.  A lot!   No more running to the store to buy more lids!  Hooray!

You can easily find the entire procedure on how to can beef (or chicken, pork, etc.) just about anywhere on the internet nowadays. Just make sure it’s an up-to-date recipe because apparently some of the processing times have changed over the years.  Also, remember that you must ALWAYS pressure can beef – or any kind of meat for that matter.  I was glad to have the Ball Home Preserving book right in front of me so I could check and double check the procedure as I was canning the beef.

How does it taste? Pressure canned beef recipe I couldn’t wait to find out!   I opened a couple of the jars within 24 hours of canning them!  I know… patience is a virtue, but I wanted to see if I could make some good chili with a jar of the meat, a jar of the black beans I had canned with the meat, and a jar of tomato sauce I had canned last winter. The first thing I did was shred the beef from one jar into smaller chunks. Then, I added the jar of beans and the tomato sauce and dumped it all in the pot.  I heated it up and let it simmer for about 10 minutes and tasted it.  It was good, but could use a little bit more zip. 🙂  So I added one scant teaspoon of red pepper flakes and about half of a teaspoon of Sriracha sauce.  I let that simmer to mingle the flavors for another 5 minutes or so and tasted again.  Perfect!  And super easy!Pressure Canned Beef Chili

The best part about Dr. Shambrook’s book “I Can Can Beef” is that she includes over a dozen recipes using the beef!  Now that’s refreshing!  Recipes such as Beef Stroganoff,  Asian Pepper Beef, and even Granny’s Beef Hash, this book gives you lots of ideas on what to do with all that beef you have canned!  Please note that I am not affiliated in any way with Dr. Shambrook or her book – she doesn’t even know who I am!  I just wanted to suggest to anyone who cans beef or is planning to can beef, and then wants to know what to do with it, that they look into getting this book!  However, I think she is missing one really good recipe in her book…  Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry!  Since she didn’t include it, and the canned beef would lend itself well to this recipe, I am sharing my version of Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry here:

Canned beef and Broccoli recipe

Have you canned beef before?  I am just learning how to pressure can meats, fish and (soon) poultry and it’s actually a lot of fun!  I am so glad I decided to take the plunge and learn this new skill, although I will admit I was a bit scared of nervous about pressure canning.  In our quest to be as self sufficient and sustainable as possible, I believe canning meat, poultry and fish will be an invaluable resource for us.  Canning a majority of our food will free up freezer space for those things that I don’t want to can, such as broccoli, corn and zucchini.  I think my next experiment will be to can some chicken noodle soup, minus the noodle, and see how that goes!  Wish me good luck!

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The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

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A Joyous Gift of Tulips!

Last fall my sister, Deana, gave me a huge bag of tulips for a birthday present.

♪♫♪♪ Happy Birthday To Me ♪♫♪♪♫   –  Oh wait, that was months ago! 😉

I must admit I was late getting them into the ground, but eventually dear hubby helped me plant them up on our future homestead sometime in November.  Some of them had already started sprouting while still in the bag and I don’t think that’s a good thing, but I went ahead and planted them all anyway.

So, I waited through December, then January and February.  Last month when we arrived at our future homestead for a work weekend, this is what I saw!

emerging tulips

Oh my, it looks like every single bulb survived and thrived!  The package that my sister gave me had a beautiful picture of tulips on the front in a variety of colors (most of them pink or pinkish) and I couldn’t wait to see what color my tulips would be!

This past weekend (Easter weekend) we drove up to the future homestead to water the orchard and work on a few projects, and this is what we saw!

beautiful tulips

They aren’t all pink!  There are yellow blooms with red stripes, and pink blooms with orange stripes! Oh beautiful joy. They are glorious! I am so glad I planted them as a boarder around the log retaining wall.  They can be easily seen and enjoyed from our “living room” and from the campfire also. red tulip blossomsUnfortunately, the weather may be turning quite nasty this coming weekend, so I am afraid that by the time we get back up there, most of the blooms will be gone.  But, you never know – I hear these flowers are pretty hearty!

That’s okay.  I will feed them, water them, and dream of next year’s blooms!  And as long as the vole doesn’t get them, they will be just fine. 🙂

yellow tulip with red stripes

Thank you, Deana, for the joyous gift!

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Moles, voles and gophers

We have a problem.  We aren’t making a mountain out of a molehill, either.  Nope.  The problem IS the molehill.  Or, actually, it’s the volehill!

California Vole

Isn’t he (or she?) cute? Too bad these little varmints are so destructive!

Several years ago, while sitting quietly on our folding chairs, we noticed this furry little creature ambling up to my hubby’s foot.  It was like the furry little thing was oblivious to our human presence!  It was brownish, maybe 6-8 inches long, a cute pinkish-brown button nose and little itty-bitty beady eyes. At first we thought it was a deer mouse, but no.  It’s body was a little longer, ears a little smaller, and deer mice don’t get quite that big. (thank goodness) Immediately we figured it was a mole or a vole.  As soon as the little scoundrel saw movement, however, it scurried off quick as a wink into tall grass and was not seen again.

After a bit of research, we decided it was, indeed, a vole. Microtus Californicus, to be exact. Voles are critters that live for the most part in underground tunnels, eating the roots of various grasse, plants and trees.  Moles, on the other hand, eat mostly grubs, worms and insects.  Voles are excellent diggers and can destroy a garden quickly.  One day you see beautiful plants – the next day they are wilted over completely.  When you pull them up – NO ROOTS!

Nasty little schmucks!

Moles, voles and gophers

Gopher (and vole) cage ready for a bare-root fruit tree.

Because of this encounter, and our discovery afterward of the tell-tale tunnels – everywhere – we knew that when we planted trees in our orchard, we would have to put metal basket guards around the roots.  This wasn’t a problem – where we bought the trees (Peaceful Valley Nursery), they also had the 15 gallon baskets just for this purpose.  The baskets have worked very well!  We haven’t lost a tree yet because of the baskets.  At first we were worried that the baskets might girdle the roots, but apparently they are made to disintegrate within about 5 years, so that the tree, once established, can grow bigger roots.  By that time the vole isn’t going to nibble enough of the tree roots to do significant harm.

Unfortunately, we didn’t think about doing this for our artichoke patch, and it looks like voles like to eat artichokes. 🙁  When I removed the heavy mulch from our artichoke plants, we could see that the vole ate three of our five plants this past winter.  How do I know the vole did it?  Well, just look at the tunnel where one of the artichoke plants used to be!  I think it’s an open and shut case, don’t you?  You can click on the picture to see it larger.

When I pulled back the winter mulch, I could see the damage was already done.  :(

When I pulled back the winter mulch, I could see the damage was already done. 🙁

You can see in the picture on the right where our friendly neighborhood dog tried to dispense with the problem for us. vole 4 At least we think it was the dog.  It could have been a bear, a fox, a raccoon or any number of predators. Apparently the dog could smell the vole and knew he was in the tunnel, so he started digging up the tunnel to find the vole.  Good dog!  I wish I could have been there to see that – it must have been epic!  I was hoping that the dog won, but, alas, a new tunnel popped up last night, so the critter (or it’s mate) is still around.  Or it’s babies.  Or grandbabies.  Voles are very prolific, reach sexual maturity at about 21 days of age, and have three to six litters in a year of 4-6 young on average.

Now we know with absolute certainty that we will use raised beds for our vegetable garden, laying metal wire under the dirt first so they can’t tunnel up into the garden.

I searched online for ways to eradicate the voles and found quite a few different methods.  Of course, I prefer to be as organic as possible (no poisons or gas, please), and don’t want to use any method that might be dangerous to the “good” animals.  My brother-in-law, Tom, suggested Bubble Gum or some other good smelling gum, as they apparently will eat it because of the smell but can’t digest it and will die.  Hmmmmm, that sounds like a slow, painful death and might be considered cruel – but hey – those critters ate my artichokes!  It’s worth a try.  At least, if it doesn’t work, our voles will have the freshest breath around! 🙂

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Disclaimer (sort of):  I am not being compensated by www.groworganic.com or Peaceful Valley Nursery.  I just like to mention them because they are my very favorite nursery.  They have an awesome on-line catalog and their customer service can’t be beat.  I have never had a complaint with them.  Take a look at their website.  They have informative videos of everything from making cheese to planting berries to pruning trees!

 

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