The Last of the Lemons and Mandarins

Here is a picture of our Meyer Lemon tree inside the greenhouse, snug as a bug in a rug! You can see there are a few ripe lemons left on the tree.

Several years ago I bought a dwarf Meyer Lemon tree and have truly loved it ever since!

Our new homestead in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California has a few days each winter below freezing (rarely below 26 or 27 degrees) for a day or two at a time, and most citrus trees cannot withstand that low of a temperature for that long.  So, we are keeping our citrus trees in fairly large pots, which allows us to move them for the winter into a greenhouse or cover it with a frost blanket, or both!

We live in USDA zone 7b or 8a, and yet our citrus trees have done well, in fact they have positively thrived since moving up to our new homestead.

The move up here was particularly hard on the citrus trees because most of their leaves got shredded while travelling in the back of our pick-up.  It was so sad and we didn’t even know it was happening until we arrived, but the poor dears bloomed just a few short months later anyway.  Now that’s what I call resilience!

This shows part of our garden/orchard area this past winter during yet another snow (we had more than usual). You can see our little greenhouse with the mandarin and  lemon trees, along with my faithful stevia plant tucked inside.

In Italy, lemons are very popular, and so many homes are built with a “lemonaia”, a room with southern window exposure just for citrus fruit trees to overwinter!

A picture of our Meyer Lemon tree in full bloom last year.

For those who don’t know, a Meyer Lemon is actually a cross between a regular lemon (Lisbon or Eureka) and a mandarin orange, which is why the Meyer is sweeter than a regular lemon.  However, it may be less acidic than a regular lemon, which is why you should not use one for acidifying fruits or vegetables while canning.

The Lisbon and Eureka lemons are usually larger than a Meyer Lemon, and the coloring of the fruit is also a little different, with the Meyer having a slightly orange tinge to both the rind and the flesh.

broad bean hummus

Here are a couple of our Meyer Lemons with some Fava bean hummus.  The Meyer Lemon zest is also very flavorful – much sweeter and brighter tasting (in my opinion) than a regular lemon.

I just adore the sweet/tart flavor of the Meyer, especially dripped onto salmon patties, or infused with basil or lavender in a glass of iced cold water… especially on a hot summer day!

Our tree produced about 15 lemons this year, which is a lot for this little tree, and there were a few left on the tree just this last week.  I figured I should get them off the tree, since I saw there were already small flower buds on the tree for this year’s crop!

My mother has had a regular lemon tree in her backyard for quite a few years now (I think it is a Eureka) and only picks the fruit when she needs them, and so she has had mature fruit, immature fruit and blossoms on the tree all at the same time.  Although it doesn’t seem that her tree minds this in the least, hers is in the ground and mine is in a pot, so I thought I would unburden the tree by picking the last of the lemons.

Our dwarf Tango Mandarin tree loaded with unripe fruit. This picture was taken last fall before we put it into the greenhouse.

Our mandarin tree is a Tango Mandarin and is about four years old now. Last year we got almost three dozen mandarins from this dwarf tree!  The Tango is supposed to be seed free, but every one of ours have had seeds.  After a bit of research, I found that this is probably because of it’s close proximity to our Meyer lemon tree, and the apparent cross pollination.

Who knew?

Obviously we didn’t… but we live and learn!

However, since we don’t mind a few seeds (a perfect excuse for a lady to spit!) we will continue to grow them together.

Believe it or not, this little tree produced almost three dozen fruit this year!  The Tango mandarin isn’t usually completely ripe until late January or February, and the quality of the fruit does not degrade for a month or so after ripeness when left on the tree, so we have been enjoying the “fruits of our labor” day by day as we walk by and pluck a snack.

The mandarins are starting to ripen! We took the citrus trees out of the greenhouse when the danger of a hard freeze had passed, so that the sunshine would help the fruit to further ripen. If you compare this picture with the one above, you can see that a couple of months in the greenhouse saved the tree, but the fruit was just barely more ripe!

What did I do with the last of my Meyer lemons?  I cut them, squeezed them, strained the and poured the juice into ice cube trays.

Frozen Meyer Lemon Juice

I ended up with three trays of frozen Meyer lemon juice cubes.

I thought of making lemon curd, but to save time I thought I would first freeze the juice and then decide later what to do with it. I found a great recipe for lemon curd that can be canned in half pint jars at National Center for Home Food Preservation.  If I don’t make the curd, I will probably use the ice cubes this summer in iced tea or infused water.  Mmmmm… doesn’t that sound good?

Someday, if we ever get our new house built, I am going to put these trees on our front porch, which will be on the south side of the house. When the trees are in bloom the aroma is heavenly, and I think they would make a beautiful welcome to all who visit.  I want to add a lime tree and probably another Tango mandarin, and will use them as a border along one side of the porch where I can set a couple of pretty patio chairs.  Won’t that look pretty?

Where the party is:

 

 

A Homestead Without A Home

NOTE:  I have removed the names of our architect and the engineer from this post and replaced them with their initials.  The reason?  We live in a litigious society and some people, who I will NOT name, may not want to accept the truth about their poor business dealings.  I do not forgive them, nor will I forget, but I don’t want to spend time away from building our home while in court defending the truth.  So, if you read this post and want to know who I am referring to, let me know and I may get in touch with you in a less public format via e-mail.  Thanks

What’s a homestead without a home?

We have been working for two years… TWO YEARS, trying to get our architect and engineer to produce working and legal house plans.

Here’s the backstory.

Ray and I purchased five acres of mountain property fifteen years ago and have slowly developed it over the years, while we lived and worked in our home in the Sacramento Valley.  First was the septic system, then came the well.  We blazed a driveway through our property and brought in four truckloads of gravel. We planted our orchard.  We prepared a nice place for our travel trailer (you can see that post HERE), since we would be living in it while we were building our new house, and beefed up the solar system (see that post HERE) to minimize the need to run a generator, lessening our dependence on fossil fuels.  The house site has been graded and leveled for more than a year now.

This is our nice, level building spot! The orange tape on the stakes indicate where the septic tank is. This picture was taken in April of 2016 and our building lot has remained empty since!

We also built our beloved outhouse.  We built the outhouse for many reasons, some of which you can read in a previous post about the outhouse HERE.

how to build an outhouse

Our outhouse.

The summer before Ray’s retirement, we had a 20 foot long cargo container (read about that HERE) delivered to our property, to store the household items that we were keeping, and over the next ten months we decluttered our house, spruced it up and started filling up the container, getting ready to put our house up for sale upon Ray’s retirement.

Well…

We must have done a good job, because we put our house up for sale by owner before Ray actually retired, just to feel out the market, and sold it sooner than we expected.

Fortunately, we were prepared, the escrow went very well, Ray finally retired, and we moved up to live on our property permanently in late March of 2015.

The family room of the house we sold so that we could build a new home on our mountain property. Oh how I miss that house!

So, that’s the backstory.

We have planned to build the outside walls of our home with Faswall ICF (insulated concrete form), which is a mineralized wood product formed into what looks like a very large concrete building block. These are stacked much like Legos and then the voids are filled with rebar and concrete.  After studying several ICF systems and weighing the pros and cons, we felt the Shelter Works Faswall was a superior product and decided to contract with them.

This is a screenshot of an e-mail I sent to our architect, dated February 6, 2015. You can click on the picture to make it bigger and easier to read.

We were referred to an Engineer, D.S. (whom we will now call Engineer), who was familiar with the Faswall system and, although he lived in Oregon, had a California Engineer’s license.  In several e-mails we told Engineer that we were DIYers and were wanting to build on a limited budget, as we did not want to have a mortgage.  He assured us that this was definitely a DIY project and that in the long-run, the house would not cost more than a house that was stick-built.  He also said that his costs would be very reasonable.  But first, we would need an architect to actually draw the plans, and Engineer referred us to J.S. (now called Architect), also out of Oregon, to draw the plans.  Architect does NOT have a California license, but Engineer assured us that it was okay, because his California license would cover everything.

So, we signed a contract and sent a deposit to Architect TWO YEARS AGO this month.

This is the main floor plan I sent to the Architect, so that he could convert it to easily build with Faswall Blocks and also to bring it up to California Code.

I sent the house plans I had been working on for several years using a software package I had purchased at Staples. All Architect had to do was make them fit with the Faswall system (each block is four feet long) and make sure the plans passed California Building Codes.

In fact, other than the final dimensions, his preliminary plans almost exactly mirror the plans I sent him. Again, we emphasized to Architect in e-mails and phone calls that we wanted to build as cheaply as possible, and that we were planning to do the bulk of the work ourselves, though we were NOT licensed contractors!  Thank goodness we saved every single E-mail, in case this ends up going to court.

This is the plan the architect came up with. Not much different than mine, is it? So, why in the world would it take so long to come up with the final plans?

FOURTEEN months later, they finally had everything necessary to submit our building package to the planning department for inspection and review.

Why would it take so long?  We wish we knew!  We begged, we nagged and we pleaded, to no avail.  Is it because we made a lot of changes to our plans?  NOPE!  We had Architect remove two windows on the second story that HE put in and we didn’t want, and I had him flip flop the shower with the toilet room in the master bath on the preliminary plans.   That’s it.  Seriously!

Why am I naming names? Because these are the cold, hard facts.  I am not worried about slander, much less libel, because I am telling the truth, as hard as it is to swallow.  I have saved all our e-mails, and our local county personnel will back me up on all of this, and so since I refuse to sugar coat anything, I am naming names.  Perhaps I can prevent someone else’s heartbreak.

When we finally submitted the plans, we got the results of our first review back from the “plan checker”  within two weeks.  There were pages and pages and pages of things that were missing, incomplete or just plain wrong in our house plans.

🙁

UGGGGHHHHHHH!  This was in late July of 2016.

http://www.clipartof.com

In the meantime, we had a bunch of contractors up to our property to give us bids on the foundation work.  That was one of the only things we were not planning to do ourselves (besides the roof), because we wanted to have a good foundation to build on!

Contractor after contractor told us that just the basement alone was going to cost between $50,000 to $60,000.  Holy @%$&

WHY?

Because our home was essentially three stories (basement, first floor, second floor) some of the footings were to be seven feet wide!  And one of the basement walls had to be a solid concrete wall (filled with rebar) 35 feet long, 10 feet high and eight inches thick, to hold up the house above.

Did someone forget all the e-mails about this being a DIY project with a reasonable cost?  Why did they ignore our requests and communications?  Were we speaking Chinese?

You hire professionals to work for YOU, to listen to YOUR problems, to understand what YOU need and to provide that service!  Wouldn’t the Architect and Engineer know that the basement with the huge footings and that concrete wall were going to be extremely expensive and certainly NOT a DIY project?  If one of them had warned us of that in the preliminary stages, we would have nixed the basement right away! But after the preliminary plans were done, there was very little communication, other than the bills they sent us.

Which we always paid with a week of their receipt.

So, after realizing that a basement was not worth a huge chunk of our budget, we asked the architect and engineer to remove it from our plans, along with correcting the pages of errors the plan checker had sent.  Oh, and we added a small retaining wall across our back patio and removed the fireplace.  It took more than six months for them to do this.  SIX MONTHS!  Because of that, we missed out on another building season.  And then they had the audacity to charge us thousands of dollars more!  Oh, and I forgot, since Oregon does not require electrical or plumbing plans (apparently those inspections are done in the field), Mr. Architect and Mr. Engineer refused to do ours. But wait…  we were assured by Mr. Engineer that since he had a California license, he would make our plans California compliant.  I have that in an e-mail and told him so, but they still refused. So, we had to hire a house planner who is licensed here in California to do this! 

Do you see a theme here?

We finally were able to turn in everything for our second review in February 2017.  Were we good to go?  NOPE.  Again, errors and omissions. To top it off, now WE have to pay more than $160/hour for the next building review (the third), for mistakes and omissions our Architect/Engineer are responsible for!

What a scam.

This past winter was brutal.  If you have been following this blog for very long, you know that we moved from our travel trailer into our “cottage” over a year ago.  See the post of our cottage HERE.  Travel trailers are not meant to be lived in 24/7, and we were burning way too much propane just to keep warm.  We were having to drive 45 minutes to get to town just to buy more propane!  It was insane!  Hey…  that rhymes.  😉

Living in a tiny cottage

Our saving grace this past winter has been our tiny wood stove.  Thankfully, it heats our little cottage really well…  sometimes too well!

Anyway, this past winter here in Northern California was the fourth wettest since recording began.  While living in the cottage to stay warm, every time I had to use the bathroom, I had to go out into the cold rain and sometimes snow. We were still showering and cooking in the trailer, so I was having to constantly go back and forth between the cottage and the trailer, oh, and the outhouse.

In the rain.

And snow.

The truth is, this is not what we signed on for.  I thank God that Ray and I are best friends, because this has really been a strain on our marriage and I wouldn’t wish this situation on our worst enemy.

So far, we have wasted two precious years, our retirement years, waiting for Mr. Architect and Mr. Engineer to do their jobs. When Ray sent ANOTHER e-mail to them to see what the status of our plans are, essentially they responded that they were working on them.

Yeah.  Right.  If you believe that, I have a bridge in Taiwan I will sell you cheap for $10,000!

We need a house.

One that we can call home.

If it takes any longer just to get plans to build a Faswall home, it’s not going to happen and we are truly heartbroken!  The Faswall folks have had our money for the blocks for a year and a half now (we made our final payment December 2015), and we will be asking for a full refund.  Luckily, Faswall won’t lose one cent, because they don’t manufacture the blocks until arrangements have been made to pick them up.  The truth is, they probably MADE money through interest over the past year and a half!  Luckily, our contract with Faswall states that if we don’t get a permit to build, and we haven’t (through no fault of our own), we will get a full refund. We are talking almost $24,000 here, folks!

We are also considering whether we will sue J.S. and D.S..  We have contacted quite a few architects in the area, and have been told that two years for a residential house (nothing fancy here, just a normal, everyday house) is not even fathomable…  It’s insane!  It’s unheard of!  In fact, ONE year (according to EVERY contractor we asked) is crazy!  So, I don’t think we will have a problem winning that one.

If you have made it this far in the story, I would really like to have your opinion.  You, my faithful followers, have given me great advice in the past.  What do you think?  Should we give Mr. Architect and Mr. Engineer another month to get the plans right and hope to get our Faswall dream house, knowing that it will be ANOTHER year before we can get started?  Or, should we cut our losses (time), go to court to get all of our money back, and start again from scratch?

Our Bees – The Good, Bad and Ugly

Ray and I are fledgling beekeepers – we are newbees!  🙂

We started in this venture two springs ago with our newly built Top Bar Beehive.  We decided to use Top Bar Hives not only because we could make them ourselves (which saves money), but for quite a few other reasons you can read about on my previous blog post about top bar hives HERE.

I thought our first attempt at beekeeping would be successful, but noooo.  I circled in red some of the dead bees that were literally buried face first into the honeycomb, which indicates they were starving, yet there was honey still in the hive!

Lets start with the Bad.  Our first bee colony died.  We were so sad. 🙁  But we had been warned that this might happen, especially since we were new at this.  So what did we do?  We built another Top Bar Beehive and bought TWO bee colonies to populate both the old hive and the new hive.

Those bees did great!  Although we had a serious problem of predation of the bees by bald faced hornets and yellow jackets this last summer, the colonies themselves seemed to be largely uneffected and both entered winter weather fairly strong in numbers.  In fact, to help them along, we insulated the hives with – well – insulation!  And, since too much moisture in a beehive is not good, we placed a few diapers over the top bars, hoping that they would absorb any excess moisture within the hive.  We were trying to cover our bases.  Apparently, this strange approach worked.  We had bees sunning themselves on their doorstep and even foraging on warm sunny winter days!

We packed the rigid insulation in pretty tight, right up to the comb furthest back in the hive, and planned to remove a couple pieces a week as soon as the weather started to warm in the spring and some flowers were starting to bloom.

The Ugly?

Well, this past winter when I was away visiting a friend, Ray decided to spray our orchard with a pesticide that killed tree borers.  A couple of our fruit trees have boring pests in them and we were hoping the spray would help. Although we are trying to be as organic as possible, it was either spray or have dead fruit trees. Our two top bar beehives reside in the orchard, and, unfortunately, Ray forgot to cover the hives before he sprayed.  He didn’t even close their entrance holes!  Uggggghhhhhh!

I wasn’t aware of this until the next day revealed untold carnage.  I couldn’t figure out why our poor girls (all worker bees are girls) were dying by the hundreds outside of the hive! My first thought was that our neighbors, who are pot farmers, had sprayed their crops with pesticide.  But it was too early to have “those” plants out!  But then, when I showed Ray the carnage, he admitted that he had sprayed the fruits trees and forgot to close the hives for a day. Those poor girls weren’t even able to get back inside after they had found pollen for the new brood… they were just too weak from the poison.

These poor little girls didn’t have a chance!  And they worked so hard for that pollen!

Ray endured a few choice words from me, and they weren’t kind words.  Lucky for him, somehow both hives survived, but were undoubtedly weakened.

We are now thinking that the hives shouldn’t actually be in the orchard!  Right next to or even down the lane a bit, but if we ever need to spray ANYTHING on the trees to control a pest or a fungus, it would be better not to have the hives within the spray range.

mistakes in beekeeping

One of our local native bumblebees dancing in the blooming broccoli.

In the middle of March both hives were still alive.  It was still cold and rainy, so we didn’t want to open the hives to see how strong they were, but we certainly didn’t see many bees through the observation windows.

This picture was taken of the new hive (hive #2) after Ray had sprayed the orchard. There were bees still present, but not very many.

I actually thought we had made it through the winter, which is like winning a beekeeper’s medal!

WAHOO!  (happy dance)

Um

Nope

I was watching the hives right around the first of April and noticed that no bees were coming and going from the new hive (hive #2).  It was finally a warmish day, so Ray and I decided to open up the hive and see what was going on.

We were devastated.  It was UGLY!  There were just a few live bees left clinging together in a clump on the comb.  Since they weren’t all dead, we thought it would be best to just close it back up, leave it alone and watch for a few days. Well, a few days later there were no live bees left in the hive.  Bummer.

When I was cleaning out the hive and trying to figure out where we went wrong, I found a huge dead yellow jacket queen in the hive.  She was big and we couldn’t figure out how she had squeezed herself into the hive, but somehow she did.  Worse yet?  There was no brood.  None.  Nada. Who knows how many times the Yellow Jacket queen had come and gone.  Worse yet, there may have been more than just the one yellow jacket queen.  I guess the main reason we are sure the Yellow Jacket(s) was responsible is that while there was no brood, there was still a lot of honey.  Yellow Jackets are huge predators because they are carnivorous and feed insects (or pieces of your picnic hotdog) to their brood. She must have either killed or taken our honeybee queen (we never found her), and stolen all the brood to feed her own.

bull hornet

This is a picture of a Bald Faced Hornet that I took last year. Between this bee predator and the huge queen Yellow Jackets we have, our poor beehives are constantly under attack!

Urrrrgggghhhhhhh!  🙁

We figured this probably happened because the hive was weak due to the spray Ray had used a few weeks before.

Nuts!  Shoot!  &%$#@&%!

I’m not sure what we are going to do about this problem in the future.  We have reduced the entrance to the hives and we have hung numerous wasp traps, but the yellow jackets and hornets keep coming.  We haven’t seen any hornets yet this spring, but we know they will be coming soon.  Anyone have any ideas, because we are just stumped.

The good?  We decided not to give up.  Not yet.  We are almost there, but wanted to try one more time, so we bought one more package to replace the dead colony.  We will be installing those next week.

Installing bees into a top bar hive

Here’s a picture of Ray installing a bee package (3 pounds of worker bees and a queen) last year in the new (#2) hive, which is the one we need to replace. We hope to be successful with the install this year also!

So the saga continues.  We need prayers, good thoughts and some old fashioned luck sent our way, because if we lose these two colonies, we will have to just give up beeing beekeepers!  It’s sad, but sometimes you just have to understand your limits.  Besides, each box of bees and a queen is costing $125, which can make beekeeping a fairly expensive hobby.

Please don’t let me discourage you if you would like to keep bees.  Each situation is different, and I think living in a forest with all the wild creatures to contend with, our situation may be more difficult than others.  However, if you have been a follower for very long, you know that I always “tell it like it is” and prefer not to “sugar coat” anything.  Why tell a story if you can’t tell the truth?

So… any suggestions?

Thank Goodness It’s MondayClever Chicks Blog Hop; Grand Social; Mix It Up Monday; Create, Link, Inspire;  Amaze Me Monday,  Homemaking Mondays; Over The Moon;  Show & Share Tuesday; The Gathering Spot; Brag About ItTuesdays with a Twist; The Scoop; Two Cup Tuesday;  Inspire Me Tuesdays; Tuesdays at Our Home;  Party In Your PJ’s;  Show Me Yours;  Make, Bake and Create;   Wined Down Wednesday;  Fluster’s Creative Muster;  Homestead Blog Hop; Wow Us Wednesday;  Wonderful Wednesday;  Waste Less Wednesday; AIM Linky; Talk of the TownOur Simple Homestead; Share Your Cup Thursday;  Home and Garden Thursday;  The Handmade Hangout;  Think Tank Thursday;  Homemaking Party;  This Is How We RollNo Rules Weekend PartyFriendship Friday;  Family Fun Friday; Friday’s Five Features; Awesome Life Friday;  Home Matters; Traffic Jam WeekendSaturday Sparks;  Dare to Share; Scraptastic Saturday; Share It One More Time; Happiness is Homemade; Anything Goes Pink Saturday; Simple SaturdaysThat DIY Party;  DIY Sunday Showcase; Snickerdoodle Sunday;   Best of the Blogosphere; Small Victories Sunday

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...