The Red Gate

I love driving down beautiful green country roads in the springtime and looking at all of the gates along the road.   I enjoy dreaming and wondering about the lives that live beyond them.

Gee, what do you think is going on behind that gate?  They certainly don’t want anyone to know, now do they!

Unfortunately, it’s just one of the many “we-have-marijuana-plants-but-don’t-want-you-(or the code inspector)-to-know” type gates we see in our area.  Sheesh!  Only in California.

One of the first tasks we completed when we bought our property years ago was to install a gate.  Our eldest son, Stephen, took a day out of his busy schedule to help us. We bought the gate at Tractor Supply and it has served us well since then.

Ray and Stephen installing our gate more than 11 years ago.  Boy has that area changed since then!

But now we are in the process of building our new home, and needed to expand the width of our gate, otherwise a cement truck would have some trouble squeezing through. And we are going to need lots and lots of cement trucks!

This wildfire was coming up and over the ridge next to us… a bit close for comfort!                    “There but by the grace of God, go I”

We also needed to make sure a fire truck and/or other emergency vehicles could get through. We have had three wildfires very close to us this year, and had to evacuate once, so we want to make it actually INVITING for fire trucks and emergency personnel to get into our property!

Several years ago, my sister Deana gave us a few small “garden type” gates, which are actually meant to be used with a chain link fence.  But, when you have limited supplies and don’t want to spend money, you “make do”!  So, my dear hubbs and I decided to use that as a temporary fix to widen the entrance to our property.

Now our gate opening is about 14 feet wide. Look at the difference in the size of the trees from the picture above when we first put in the gate!  It doesn’t even look like the same place, but it is!

Once our new house is done, we plan to replace the gate with a prettier gate and install a solar automatic gate opener.  I found these gates below on Wayfair.com and really like the first one.  I’m not a real “frufru” type of girl, but a little bit more design than our current gate would be nice.

Since we installed that first gate more than 10 years ago, it was starting to lose some paint where we chained it to the post, and I thought that since we were widening the gate, we would update the whole kit and kaboodle.

I decided to paint both of these gates bright red – or as the paint can says – Satin Apple Red.  Why?  Because living in a forest, it isn’t always easy to see street signs, much less house numbers  So, we have to explain our property whereabouts to visitors as “turn down the lane where you see the first brown gate”.  Unfortunately, in the afternoon, our gate is in the shade, so sometimes it isn’t easy to see the gate, especially since it’s brown!  And our neighbor down the road also has a brown gate. And the neighbor below him!

So after clearing some brush and lower tree limbs, I painted both gates Rustoleum Satin Apple Red.

Doesn’t this look better?

Now, I can tell everyone that we are at the only red gate on our country road, and they can’t miss it.  At least I hope they don’t!!

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Breaking Ground!

After years of waiting, worrying and wondering if we would EVER get our building permit, we are proud to announce that we have finally broken ground!

Building an ICF house

First things first… removing this cute little tree. I really wanted to save it, but unfortunately it would have been in the way of the heavy equipment and probably too close to the house.

                            WAHOO!       YIPPEE!        HOORAY!

The first step in building our new home is to form massive concrete footings for the foundation of the very heavy concrete walls.  We are using the Reynoso Brothers as our concrete contractor because we have been extremely happy with the work they have done on our building site so far.  Last year they prepared the building site quickly and efficiently, on time and at a reasonable cost, so it was a no brainer to have them back.

building a Faswall home

These footings will be three feet wide and two feet deep, with lots and lots of rebar!

The heavy equipment they brought seemed to be overkill at first, but then when I saw the size of the trenches they were digging, I understood.  The footings will be massive!

The tractors made digging through our clay dirt seem like a knife through butter.  Well… almost.  Until they hit a huge rock right at the back corner of where our patio will be.  Luckily, it was a soft rock (sedimentary?) and the excavator was able to actually scrape most of the rock away.

Once the trenches were dug for the footings, they began defining the upper edges with some 2 x 6’s.  They used a laser on a tripod to get everything perfect, and the picture on the left shows what they were able to accomplish after just one day of work!

Then the rebar was installed.  Holy cannoli… 3 tons of rebar!

No joke.  Really.  Three tons!

Building a Faswall house

These are two guys from Reynoso Bros bending rebar.  Can you see the pile of rebar next to them?  Let me tell you, their work was cut out for them!

With all the concrete and metal that is going into this house, I truly believe it will last

F.  O.  R.  E.  V.  E.  R.

Once all the footings were dug and most of the rebar installed, it was time to set the rough plumbing.  For minimal intrusion into the Faswall itself, we decided to set the kitchen sink, the toilet in the 1/2 bath and the urinal in the master bathroom under the slab.

“Urinal?” you say?  Why yes!  No more fretting about poor aiming and no more seat up/down wars! Can you tell I’m a mother of four boys (including my husband). 😉

Building a Faswall ICF House

I designed the house so that all the plumbing would be in one area. Originally I was going to have the kitchen sink closer to all the bathrooms, but I wanted to have a window over the sink, so it ended up being the only plumbing that was not in a 15 foot square area. Oh well.

Juan from ACE Plumbing and his crew did most of the work in one day, which was impressive.  Except…

The toilet was put in the wrong spot, and so was the freestanding bathtub.  You see, building a house with ICF is a lot different than building a stick-built house.  In our ICF home, the blocks themselves are exactly 2 feet long, with 1/2 blocks being 1 foot long (well, duh).

A Faswall Block. This one happens to be a corner block, which is why the insulation is in an “L” shape on one side. The blocks are 2 feet long, 12 inches thick and 8 inches high.

Anyway, because of that, when designing an ICF house, windows and doors are placed exactly on whole feet and not partial feet.  So, when the two foot wide bathroom window will start 14 feet from the corner of the house, with the toilet centered right underneath, the toilet needs to be centered on 15 feet.  Get it?

Well, only having built stick houses before, they figured they would center the toilet on the wall, and the window could be built centered over the toilet. That’s the normal thing to do.  But we needed to have just the opposite.  They needed to center the toilet under where the window will be!

So, when we explained this to Juan, he had his crew up that very afternoon to fix the problem!  Yay!

One thing dear hubby and I have been doing is testing and checking, checking and testing everything!  That’s how we knew the toilet wasn’t right.  We put the Faswall block exactly where it will be placed on the footing, then measured twice from corner to corner, and toilet to corner, then bathtub to corner, etc.  I know that sounds a bit nit-picky, but the truth is that WE are acting as our own contractor and in the end WE are the only ones responsible.  So, it’s better to check and make adjustments now, before any concrete is poured!

Insulated Concrete Form building

The Southeast corner of our future Faswall home temporarily in place.

So, now you ask… what’s next?

Inspection!  Yup.  Our first inspection.  We are a bit nervous, though I don’t know why.  The two contractors we have had on site so far are experts in their field and are fully licensed, so we shouldn’t have any problems.  (Famous last words?)

Insulated Concrete Forms

When we pass our first inspection, we will celebrate with this bottle of wine our good friends Ronda and Leonard gave us. Cheers!

In the meantime, I have been moving my green plastic chair around in the house, pretending I am looking out this window or that window, getting a feel of what it will look like, and dreaming…..

Faswall ICF building

The chair is where our covered, screened in patio will be. Ahhhhhhh

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Broccoli and Sprouts Seed Saving

Wikipedia describes “landrace” as this:

“A landrace is a domesticated, locally adapted, traditional variety of a species of animal or plant that has developed over time, through adaptation to its natural and cultural environment of agriculture and pastoralism, and due to isolation from other populations of the species.”

Saving home grown broccoli seedsI grew my first attempt of broccoli and brussels sprouts from organic, open pollinated heirloom seeds.  Although I won’t call my first crop a success because I got only a few small heads of broccoli and no brussels sprouts at all, I did learn a very valuable lesson.  Plant sooner.  I thought that since these were cool weather crops, I needed to plant them in cooler weather!

Silly me.

But the plants did over-winter in fine shape and, since they thought it was their second year of life, they bloomed, and the blooms were absolutely gorgeous! broccoli and brussels sprouts seed saving

Our honeybees were enthralled with the blossoms, as were the bumblebees and orchard mason bees.  Serendipity!  To be honest, I couldn’t really smell any sweetness to the blossoms, even when I stuck my nose smack dab in the middle.  But then, I’m not a bee, so what do I know 😉

So, I let the blooming plants go to seed, just to see if I could grow broccoli and brussels sprouts from my own saved seed. After it looked like the seed pods were pretty plump, I pulled up the plants and hung them by their roots on our orchard/garden fence. One lesson learned from hanging the seed pods is to watch them every day, because once they are all dried the seed pods pop open and the seeds will drop and roll all over the ground.  The seeds are so small, that it’s almost impossible to find them on the ground!  What I found is that about two weeks in the sun hanging on the fence is all that is needed.  Once the seed heads were dry, I rolled them between my fingers and the seeds popped out into a clean bucket I had below.  I put the seeds into an envelope and labeled them with the variety and date harvested.saving broccoli and brussels sprouts seeds

When it was time to plant the seeds (around the middle of August, for me), I bought some more seeds at our local organic seed store – Sustainable Seed Company.  Why?Because I wasn’t REALLY sure my seeds would be viable, and I actually wanted to EAT, not just grow broccoli and sprouts! One thing I have learned from all my experimenting in the garden and in the kitchen… you should always have plan #2!

broccoli and brussels sprouts seedsI labeled the seeds either SB (store bought) or HG (home grown), with my homemade labels.  I made these out of one of the ice cream buckets that my mother gave me.  Just cut the bucket in strips and label with a permanent market and, voila!

I planted the seeds in terracotta pots because I have had better luck germinating seeds in them, though it can be hard to get the seedling out when it is time to plant. It’s also easier to keep the pots wet when put into a cookie sheet tray or old roasting pan, without the seeds/seedlings getting waterlogged.  I then watered all of the planted seeds with my homemade kelp fertilizer (which has gibirellic acid, a type plant hormone) and waited to see what would happen.seed saving - broccoli and brussels sprouts

Some of the seeds germinated and were peeking up above the soil in just seven days!  I really think that had a lot to do with the kelp fertilizer.  Eventually it was evident that both the SB and the HG seeds were germinating at about the same rate.  I was so excited! That means I can definitely save my seeds every year, and hopefully, by careful selection, I will end up with seeds that are very well adapted to my weather and soil conditions.

saving open pollinated broccoli seedsAlas, I may have gotten my plants into the ground too late again.  Here it is October 1st and my plants aren’t very big. My biggest gardening problem isn’t timing, however, but  logistics.  Most of my raised garden beds are INSIDE my fruit orchard.  That was okay last year and the year before, but the trees are growing and are now shading my vegetable beds!

We’ll see what happens.

My plan is to every year select the healthiest two or three plants of each – broccoli and brussels sprouts – and let them flower and then go to seed.  Of course, that means that for a few years while I am developing my own broccoli and sprouts landraces, we won’t be eating the cream of the crop.

That’s okay.  I can wait!  At least the bees will be happy!

One more thing I learned from this experiment…  tomatoes don’t like broccoli!seed saving - broccoli and brussels sprouts

You see, I was gifted the book “Carrots Love Tomatoes” by Louise Riotte a few years ago from my sweet DIL Wendy, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the book, trying to follow the planting preferences as listed in the book.  What happened is that this past spring the broccoli seeds hadn’t yet finished developing, but I needed to get the tomatoes in the ground in the same box that the broccoli was, so I went ahead and planted the tomatoes a few inches away from the broccoli.  Big mistake!  You have to click on the picture above to see it larger, but you can see that the tomato plants in the boxes with broccoli are much smaller than the ones in boxes without the broccoli!  The picture was taken about 3 weeks after the tomatoes were planted.  Believe it or not… the tomato plants started out at about the same size!

Who knew?  Obviously not me!  You learn something new every day!

So, my advice for today:  If you are growing broccoli or brussels sprouts and live in an area that has fairly mild winters, DON’T harvest every bit of produce off the plant!  Leave some sprouts and some broccoli heads on the plants, mulch heavily to get them through the winter and allow them to bloom and set seed the next year!  You will be able to take that seed and replant your next crop, which will be stronger and healthier year after year!

And don’t plant tomatoes among your broccoli!

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Off-Grid Pump House

I am so behind in a lot of my posts.  Sorry.

A lot has been happening around here.

Last March I started telling you about the pump house we were building.

You may recall that framing the walls was next on the agenda.  If you havent seen that previous post, you can catch up by clicking HERE.

Since we drilled the holes in the sill boards for the J-bolts and PVC conduit pipes, then set everything in place, tightening the bolts tight, the concrete was able to cure with everything in it’s proper place.

We decided to re-use the lumber that we used for framing the concrete slab (reduce, reuse, recycle!), so I spent some time scraping off the cement from the boards.

We began framing one wall at a time, which was definitely a two person job.  Sometimes I needed three arms to hold everything up while dear hubby Ray screwed it into place, but after a lot of groaning and a few colorful words, we eventually got the walls up.  As mentioned in the first post about this pump house, we used 2 x 6 lumber (2 x 4 in a few spots for bracing) which fits nicely with the 6″ wide concrete block, and also so that in the future we can super insulate the walls and ceiling.  

Once the walls were in place, we installed a window.  We went to Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store to purchase a few items for this project.  We got the Marvin window for about $35 and hinges for the door for $1 each!  I love going to these Re-Stores and spending an hour or so just looking around, because you never know what you might find!  We have been to several and each one is different, which makes the shopping adventure just that much better!

We needed to put a window into the pump house not only for the natural light, but also in case we need to pull the pump out of the well.  The window was positioned right in front of the well head, and it’s big enough to slide open and pull the pump through.

Next came the roof.  We bought these metal “hangers” from the big box store to make it easier to secure the rafters to the top plate of the framing.  They worked great!  When we (meaning me) first put them on, we got them upside down.  Oops!  Ray corrected my mistake.  🙂

Then we added a bit more structure to the gable ends and jack studs horizontally between the regular studs, to give the building more structure and strength. On the front side (the picture to the left is showing the back side) we also installed a vent. Eventually we plan to install a solar panel on the roof to provide a task light on the inside and a motion detector light outside, and also as a trickle charge to batteries that we can use for pumping water on cloudy days.  We have decided to leave the power to the pump separate from the power to the house because that system is already in place and running.  Ray has all that stuff worked out and I am sure glad he does, because when it comes to anything electrical (watt?  amp who? voltage where?), I am the consummate dummy!  But that’s okay because it just makes him the yang to my yin!  After 41 years of marriage, this has worked well.

So… I just nod and smile when he is telling me about all of that “stuff”.

Then the rafters went up.  Holy canolli, what a job!  They were heavy and cumbersome and we decided to put them up on a windy day.  Why would we do something so silly? Because rain was in the forecast and we wanted to get the roof on ASAP!

Now it’s actually looking like a building!  Wahoo!  The hardest part is done… right?

Well, No.

For us, the hardest part was the plywood and metal roofing.  Why?  Because the plywood is heavy (really heavy), the metal roofing is sharp, and we are both just a little nervous about heights! :O

It was a bit difficult getting the plywood exactly centered and leveled on the rafters because, unfortunately, a few of the rafters were just a bit warped and twisted. And we aren’t professional contractors. And did I mention those suckers are heavy? Oh well. You really can’t see that from the outside, so we’re good.

Just don’t look too close…

Our next task was to wrap the house and install the siding.  Since we live in an area that is prone to wildfires, we try to use fire resistant products whenever possible.  We decided to use the James Hardie Planks, just like we did on the tool shed (turned into our little cottage bunkhouse), with the James Hardie 4×8 sheets on the gable ends, for a little bit of interest. This product is fairly noncombustable as it is a cement based product.  The truth is that ANYTHING can burn… even concrete, but every little bit of prevention helps in a wildfire situation! The trim was also made from this product. The siding took the longest time to do – several days – but I think it turned out well!  We also used the Hardi Planks to close up the soffits.  Closed soffits are also an important component of a structure in a wildfire prone area.  If no sparks can get into the attic, it is less likely that the building will burn!  One thing I will say about using the James Hardie products is that they are NASTY when you cut them!  We learned from experience the first time we used this product.  It is imperative that safety goggles (the kind that completely enclose your eyes) and breathing masks be used, otherwise your snot turns to concrete marbles and your eyes will weep rocks for days!

Seriously!

The door was our final piece of construction.  When we were planning how big to make this building, we knew that we had to make the door big enough to be able to remove and/or replace the water storage tank.  But we also knew that we didn’t want a door to be that big, because it would tend to sag and warp.  So, we decided to make a double door system where only one door is used and the other, while useable when necessary, would usually be pinned shut with a bolt going through the door and into the concrete on the bottom.  We bought the hinges at the Re-Store and the handle and lock system at the big box store.  Once the doors were constructed, we trimmed them out with the Hardi Board to match the gables and… voila!

I couldn’t wait to hang my sun on the side of the building!

Now, all we have to do is paint!

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