Wood Warms You Again and Again!

This past spring we had several oak trees cut down that were casting too much shade upon our struggling fruit trees.  In fact, one of our peaches and both apple trees didn’t even see sunshine – at all!  I always struggle with eco-friendly practices versus self-sufficiency, and this was another one of those battles.  Do I cut down some beautiful oak trees that are in the way of a few trees in my orchard, and let the fruit trees suffer for lack of sunlight?  Or do I cut down the offending oak trees so that I will someday be able to harvest my own organic apples?  Self-sufficiency won this debate.  Those oak trees had to go.

Cutting firewood

Here is Mike, the lumberjack, at least 30 (maybe 40) feet up a very tall oak tree!

We had a local tree guy, Mike, come over to fall the trees.  I was nervous because the trees were very big and tall, and were right next to our orchard, garden and beehive.  I was afraid one of the trees would fall the wrong way and destroy the very things we were trying to save!  Luckily, Mike was a very careful and experienced lumberjack and was able to place every limb and trunk exactly where it needed to be. Not one branch fell the wrong way.  Whew!

Once Mike the Lumberjack was done, Ray and I were left with a huge mess and tangle of oak limbs and huge trunks.  For the past two months we have slowly been cutting the

Firewood cutting

This is part of the mess we were left with.

wood into about 18 inch lengths – perfect for our cute little wood stove!  The wood will keep us warm this winter and will also cook a majority of our food!  After we get a large pile of wood cut, we carry it over to the splitter, since most of the logs are too big in diameter to fit into our itty bitty wood stove.  The wood splitter was made by my brother-in-law, Danny, who passed on to heaven almost three years ago (and I still miss him). He was an excellent welder and machinist, and could make just about anything.  The splitter may not be pretty, but it sure does get the job done – and fast!

Oak firewood cutting

This is the hydraulic splitter that my brother-in-law, Danny, made.

After splitting the wood into wood stove sized chunks, we stack the wood on top of a tarp.

Firewood warms you five times!

Here is the stack we had when we were a little more than half done with our wood cutting, splitting and stacking. We will need every bit of this wood to stay warm this winter.

The tarp is there so the wood doesn’t “melt” into the dirt, and to deter ants and termites.  It won’t keep the critters away completely, but the tarp will make it a bit more uncomfortable for them to inhabit our wood pile.

What we like to do is get up early in the morning when it is still cool and cut for about an hour or so, then we do some splitting and stacking, and try to quit around lunchtime.  The past week has been fairly productive because it has been cool, but next week we are supposed to be in the mid 90’s to 100’s here in Northern California, and it’s brutal working in that kind of heat!

Cutting Firewood

Here is a pile of brush and limbs from the oak trees ready to go into the chipper/shredder.

The next morning, if we are too tired and sore from cutting, splitting and stacking, we will spend time chipping instead.  We bought our chipper eight or nine years ago and it has performed well.  Rather than have large piles of brush to burn next winter, which is a fire hazard here in the middle of the forest (especially with our terrible drought here in California), we chip most of the small limbs, brush and leaves that are left over from the trees we cut.  The chipped and shredded material makes a wonderful mulch for the garden.  We are also throwing a layer over the ground in the orchard area, in preparation for planting clover to help condition the soil. Some of the mulch also goes into the compost pile.  It’s the most efficient and safe way we have found to get rid of all that brush from the trees!

Oak wood mulch in the garden

We spread about 4-5 inches of mulch in all the garden beds. It’s great because I don’t have to water as often because the mulch keeps the soil cool and moist.  Another benefit is that I have had very few weeds to contend with.

So, let’s see…  We get warm when we cut the wood, warmer still when we split it, and by the time we are stacking we are almost burned out – yes, pun intended 🙂 .  That’s warming three times.  But, then we chip.  That’s four times.  Finally, the wood will warm us is when we burn it in our woodstove!

Well, actually, I guess it warms us again when we eat the food cooked on the wood stove – delicious!  And also when we spread the mulch around in the garden beds and over the orchard area.  And then again…

well, you get the picture!

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Organic Pest Control

I planted two varieties of strawberries to see which one would do best here at our new home.  They are both doing equally well.  The Sequoia started blooming at least a month earlier than the Quinault, but now as the Sequoia are starting to give up, the Quinault seem to be coming on strong!  I had no idea this would happen, but it’s wonderful because it will prolong our strawberry season.  However, even though the Sequoias were doing well and started putting on quite a few strawberries in early May, something was eating the fruit just before it became fully ripe!  We couldn’t even taste the strawberries to see if there was a difference between the two varieties!

Well, this can’t happen.  I’m not growing food to feed the forest critters, and we certainly can’t be very self-reliant if an uninvited guest is eating our food before we can.

The nerve!     Well, I never!     Heavens to Murgatroyd!

Judging from the little teeth marks on the half-eaten strawberries, I decided we were dealing with mice.  So, out came the mouse traps and peanut butter!  This method has worked fairly well so far.  One of our first scalloped squash was also half-eaten, I assume by mice, so we have a few traps by the squash as well.

Mouse trap for organic pest control

Good old fashioned mouse traps – they haven’t made a better one yet! Maybe these will keep the mice out of my garden so we can eat some strawberries!

Another pest I was afraid would descimate our garden was our native Banana Slugs.  I could imagine one of these slugs might take out an entire plant in one night.  Not cool!

Banana slug in Sierra Nevada Mountains

This is one of the many banana slugs we have found on our property. We saw it’s silvery trail and found this slug just chillin’. My middle finger is 3-1/4 inches long, so you can see Mr. Slugo is about 4 inches long – and fat! I’m sure he could devastate our vegetable garden overnight!

However, I read somewhere that slugs prefer not to cross copper. Apparently as their little sticky, sluggy tummies come into contact with the copper, it causes a very slight electrical current and the slugs prefer not to cross over it.  Hmmmm….

Copper…

Pennies are made of copper, right?  I had a whole bag of pennies!  So, I decided to try placing a copper ring around all of my new “tender” plants to see if it would keep the slugs away.  The verdict?  It works!  At least I think it must because I haven’t had any slug damage on the plants that have the penny rings around them, yet I have found several slugs within and around my garden!

I wanted to give these sunflower seedlings a fighting chance against our Banana Slugs.  Apparently copper really does work!

I wanted to give these sunflower seedlings a fighting chance against our Banana Slugs. Apparently copper really does work!

The biggest pest problem that I have been dealing with, however, has been the #$@%&#*&  Yellow Jackets.  Yellow Jackets are omnivores, which means they will eat meat (your hamburger, other bugs, or even you) and also sweet things like nectar, honey or your soda!  In the garden, if you are careful when they are around, Yellow Jackets can actually be a good thing!  Being meat eaters, they will eat caterpillars, grasshoppers, and various other insects.  Unfortunately, one of their prey are honey bees!  The Yellow Jacket is a more adept flier and can catch a honeybee in mid flight, and will eat the poor little honeybee’s softer abdomen as she kicks and flails her legs.  Yes, it is really quite gruesome and I have witnessed this several times within a few feet of our new hive.  I decided to go on the defensive against the Yellow Jackets, but what could I use?  To make matters worse, when autumn comes, the Yellow Jackets will begin to smell the honey in the beehive and may attack the bees to get to the honey.  I have read that Yellow Jackets can take out an entire colony of bees and steal all their honey!

I didn’t want to use an insecticide for obvious reasons – I have an organic garden and I also didn’t want to harm the honeybees!  We found some wasp traps at our local box

Redneck Organic Pest Control

This is one of those wasp traps you can buy at your local box store. They work but can be expensive if you need to control the Yellow Jackets through the entire season!

store and they work, but they cost $5.99 each and only work for about two to three weeks, then have to be replaced.  We were over-run with Yellow Jackets (mild winters cause this) and knew we would need to have a fortune’s worth of traps to keep the Yellow Jackets at bay so our honeybees would have a fighting chance.

Then, my sister Machell told me about a method some guy was using and claimed it worked so well he hadn’t seen a Yellow Jacket for weeks.

It was simple.  Fill a shallow tray with water that has a few drops of dish detergent in it to within 1/2 to 1 inch of the top. Then, get a piece of wood that can easily rest across the top of the tray.  Now, either nail a piece of meat to the piece of wood, use twine to tie the meat on, or do what I did and use rubber bands to strap a piece of meat onto the wood.  I used 1/2 a strip of bacon.  Now, turn the wood over so that the meat is on the underside of the wood.  Set out where you have seen a lot of Yellow Jacket activity.

I was nervous that the water would attract honeybees as well as the Yellow Jackets, so I watched the water carefully for the next few hours.  Luckily the Yellow Jackets were interested but the honeybees were not.

I couldn’t believe my eyes.  It really worked!  Within two days I had a few dozen Yellow Jackets drowned in the water.  This is so much cheaper that buying a lot of traps and I also don’t have to be concerned about having to dispose of the purchased traps with all their plastic!  I found even a small piece of bacon (about 1″ x 1″) will work, but the bigger the piece of meat, the more the trap attracted the Yellow jackets.

Meat Bee Traps

Here is my Redneck Yellow Jacket Trap. Don’t laugh – it works! I think it is actually working better than the ones I bought at the store!  It’s time to clean out again so I can catch some more!

The only disadvantage to this trap is that if it rains, your trap will probably accumulate too much water.  So, if it rains in your neck of the woods very often, it’s best to place this trap under something to keep the rain out.  Also, if you live in a hot, dry area, you will need to ADD water – probably once a day or so.

One more way I have been dealing with the Yellow Jackets is with those hand held, battery run bug zappers.  I’m sure you have seen them.  They look like a tennis racquet, but when you press a button, the metal grid becomes electrified.  It is so satisfying to catch one of those nasty little buggers and hear them fry!  They actually pop and sizzle on the electrified grid.  Obviously I am not Buddhist!  I learned that if I leave one of the fried Yellow Jackets on the metal grid, others come to cannibalize their comrade and I can zap a couple more without having to chase them down!

My forehand hasn’t been better! 🙂

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We’re Finally Here!

Our homestead is no longer our “future homestead” – it is now home!

You see; dear hubby retired on December 31 (♫♫ wahoo ♫♫), which meant we could finally move up to our future homestead in the mountains.  Since it was mid-winter and we had plenty of time (I did not want to live in our travel trailer during the winter), I decided to put our valley home on the market myself – just to test the waters – using Zillow.  Well, lo and behold, a couple toured the house, loved it and put in a offer.  A full price offer!  We couldn’t say no, but we really didn’t expect to sell so soon!

A picture of the ship we took our Mexican Riviera Cruise upon.

A picture of the ship we took our Mexican Riviera Cruise upon.  We had a wonderful time!

In the meantimem we just HAD to go on a Mexican Riviera cruise that our sons bought us as a gift for my husband’s retirement!  Yes…  they are awesome sons!  It was our first cruise and we had the time of our lives.

Meanwhile, back at the house, after all the inspections the sale of our home was “full speed ahead” and when we got back from our cruise we had only ten days to vacate our home.

Ten days!  Ugh.  We had lived in that home for 25 years.  Do you know how much “stuff” gets accumulated in 25 years?  Oh my goodness, I was finding stuff stashed away that I thought I had lost years ago.  I also found a lot of things that I couldn’t remember why I was saving! 😉

The family room where I raised my three boys.  We spent a lot of time there - 25 years!  I miss my home, but I am sure our new home will be just as loved!

The family room where I raised my three boys. We spent a lot of time there – 25 years! I miss my home, but I am sure our new home will be just as loved!  This was one of the pictures I put on Zillow to sell the house.

So, we packed boxes, gave away some of the “good” stuff, took a few truckloads to Goodwill, a few more truckloads to the local landfill, had a “garage sale” and sold a lot of our furniture to a local used furniture dealer.  The rest of our possessions were stuffed into the cargo container on our future  homestead.

Our new laundry room.  It also houses our freezer and quite a few boxes of household "stuff".

Our new laundry room. It also houses our freezer and quite a few boxes of household “stuff”.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough room even in the cargo container!  So, we went to the local “box store” and bought an 8 x 10 metal shed.  It took us four days to get the shed built (a few swear words may or may not have been involved), and in the meantime a lot of boxes and pieces of furniture were stored under tarps.  Good thing we used lots of tarps, because before we could secure all the stuff that was under tarps into the new shed, this happened…..

A beautiful snowy day - full of potential disaster! This is a picture of the lane leading into our property.

A beautiful snowy day – full of potential disaster! This is a picture of the lane leading into our property.

Yes, the snow was absolutely gorgeous!  Unfortunately, just two days before this snow we had erected our screened gazebo – our temporary “family room” of sorts – and the snow was so heavy that the gazebo collapsed.  We got the gazebo propped up with old fence boards and 2 x 4’s, cleared the snow from the roof of the travel trailer (our temporary home) and the new metal shed, made sure water wasn’t getting in under the tarps, and fretted about our poor mandarin and lemon trees, along with the baby fruit on our cherry, almond, plum and peach trees!  The snow finally stopped at about 2:30 in the afternoon, and it looked like the worst was over.  We went inside the trailer to get warm, and just as soon as my fingers and toes were no longer tingling, we looked back outside only to see that it was snowing again!  I cried.  By dusk the snowfall had mercifully stopped.  We were not expecting this snow – at all!  We live in California, are in the middle of a severe drought, and this snowstorm dumped more snow in the mountains than had fallen in all of January and February!

When the snow melted (it took a couple of days) we were pleasantly surprised to see that the fruit on our trees still looked viable and the gazebo was fixable!

Inside our screened gazebo - the new "family room".

Inside our screened gazebo – the new “family room”.

So, it was time to get back to the business of setting up our temporary living quarters while we build our new home.  Once the new metal shed was completed, we stuffed the back with boxes and then put our new freezer in, along with the electric washing machine from our home in the valley.  I am happy to let the sun dry my clothes because they smell so good and fresh when line dried, however this next winter that won’t be an option.  Of note – line dried jeans literally stand by themselves!  So, dear hubby found an almost new propane dryer on Craigslist for $100. I will still hang most everything out to dry on our solar dryer, but knowing we have an alternative when we really need it is reassuring. This shed is now called our utility room.

By this time weeks had flown by.  We finally had all of our possessions under one roof or another and we were getting settled into our new surroundsings.  We were happy but absolutely exhausted!

It was time to get back to our most important task, and that is to get our house plans drawn and submitted to the county building department for approval! The plans I had been working on over the past four years were on my desktop computer, and it was time to get the computer out of storage (in the car), set it up and finalize the plans I wanted to send to the architect.

Yeah – right.

My desktop wouldn’t boot up completely.  Every time we tried to get the computer running, it would shut itself down.  We took the hard drive to Geek Squad and they gave us the bad news – the motherboard was fried!  Ugh!

So, here I am typing this blog post on my new laptop.  An expense we didn’t expect to have at this time, but it is what it is.

I am learning how to be more flexible and to just “let it go”. 😉

My next project is getting a vegetable garden going.  I have a lot of seeds left over from the garden I planted two years ago, and I am hoping they are still viable.  Dear hubby built four raised beds in the orchard last year I only grew tomatoes and peppers last year, but this year I want to grow green beans, zucchini squash and pattypan squash, more tomatoes and peppers, garlic, onions, sunflowers and maybe even some melon.  Before we left our house in the valley, I was able to get a few cuttings from my oregano and rosemary plants, along with some star jasmine.  I put them in rooting hormone and it looks like they may just “take”.  We will see.

The energy guide label of our new 5.1 cubic foot freezer - very energy efficient!

The energy guide label of our new 5.1 cubic foot freezer – very energy efficient!

Hubby is also working toward installing a new 400 watt solar system that will keep our new little chest freezer running.  Once that is set up, we will be able to store more foods in the freezer and won’t have to completely rely on canned meats and vegetables.  Of course, once the vegetable garden starts producing, it will be nice to have a place to store the excess.  I doubt that I will have enough produce to can this year, but we will see.

Another project we will be working on within the next couple of weeks will be our water tower.  We have a 500 gallon water storage tank that will be set upon a tower that we are building with 20’ long 6 x 8 foot posts.  This will give us better water pressure in our trailer.  Right now, even though we have hot showers, the water pressure is miserable and all we get is a trickle shower. Posts on this project will come soon.

Finally, another project of ours is getting a honeybee hive established.  Our hope is that with a hive in our orchard and another one next year in the permanent raised bed vegetable garden, we will be able to eventually harvest honey and beeswax, ensure pollination of our fruits and vegetables, and help the general honeybee population thrive. Since I will be growing organically, using only heirloom seeds when possible, our garden should be a safe haven for the bees.

So, there you have it.  That’s why I have been absent for so long!  Now that I am back on the blog, I can’t wait to share with you all the things we are doing to continue establishing this wonderful homestead of ours!

I love comments – please leave one below!

I am sharing this blog post at some of these parties:

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Thursday:   The HomeAcre Hop; Share Your Cup Thursday;  Home and Garden Thursday;  The Handmade HangoutCreate it Thursday;  Think Tank Thursday; Green Thumb Thursday; Homemaking Party; Treasure Hunt Thursday; All Things Thursday Inspire Us Thursday; Inspire or be Inspired; Project Parade; Inspiration Gallery; Pure Blog Love; Favorite Things

Friday:  Freedom Fridays; Friendship Friday; From The Farm Blog Hop; Eat, Create, PartyPinworthy Projects Party; Farmgirl Friday;  Friday Flash Blog Party; Weekend re-Treat; Family Fun Friday; Friday’s Five Features; Real Food Fridays; Friday FavoritesOld Fashioned Friday; Fridays Unfolded; Inspired Weekend; Show Off Friday; Craft Frenzy FridayFront Porch Friday; No Rules Weekend Party; Friday Favorites; Giggles Galore

Saturday:  Say G’Day SaturdaySuper Saturday; Simply Natural Saturdays;  Saturday Sparks;  Show and Tell Saturday;  My Favorite Things;  Dare to Share; Scraptastic Saturday

Sunday:  Frugal Crafty Home; That DIY Party; Nifty Thrifty Sunday; DIY Sunday Showcase; Snickerdoodle Sunday;  Simple Life Sunday; Think Pink Sunday; Sunday Showcase

A Wood Stove and Other Things

Organic tree fertilizerWhile we are busy trying to sell our home in the valley so we can permanently move up to our mountain property, we have been able to sneak up to the future homestead a few times these past few weeks to get a few chores done.

One important task to accomplish was feeding our fruit and nut trees.  We stopped at an organic nursery on our way up to the future homestead and found a great organic fertilizer. It has kelp and worm compost and other wonderful things in it, providing not just the NPK that you find in chemical fertilizers, but lots of micronutrients such as boron and copper that are essential for tree health!  We also raked away the last of the leaves and pine needles to prevent any pests from over-wintering in them, and widened the watering berm a bit because the drip line has expanded with the ever-growing trees.  We did a drastic pruning this year, so the trees are actually shorter, but we need to make sure that the trees have a strong scaffolding shape for the future. Unfortunately we got a borer in the largest cherry tree last year, so we cut out as much of the damaged wood as possible and are keeping our fingers crossed that the tree will survive.cap and vent for an outhouse

Another necessary chore was to put a rain cap on the outhouse vent.  When using a venting an outhousecomposting toilet (which is essentially what an outhouse is), excessive moisture is the biggest enemy!  Instead of human waste composting with minimal smell, excessively wet waste will stink to high heavens and become a putrid sludge instead of compost.

If you are eating right now, I apologize.  😉

We found several caps at our local hardware box store and decided on the one in the picture above one.  It appears that it will do a great job allowing for air flow, yet keep rain out of the vent pipe. Just what we need! Though we haven’t had much rain here in California this winter (we are in our fourth year of drought), the weather report said that quite a bit of rain was expected in the next couple of days, and they were right!  We got the vent on just in time!

february blooming almond tree

Almond tree blossoms in February

Speaking of the weather and the orchard trees:  it has been just too warm up on our future homestead!  Our almond tree is blooming and the pomegranate is starting to leaf out!  This is way too early.  We shouldn’t see this until at least the end of February and more often well into March.  Unfortunately, this probably means we won’t get any almonds this year because a freeze or very heavy downpour of rain will either kill the blossoms or knock them off of the tree entirely.  Oh well.  The tree is only starting it’s third year in our orchard, so I didn’t expect much of a harvest anyway.  Last year it had two almonds that fell off the tree mid-summer.

pomegranate tree leafing out

The pomegranate trees are already getting leaves!

Last, but by no means least, is our new wood stove!  Isn’t she cute?  It’s a little tiny thing, but just perfect for cooking on!  We decided to fire her up right away to burn off that new cooking on a small wood stovepaint smell.  Boy did it stink!  Phew!  According to the instructions that came with the wood stove, we will have to do this a few more times before the burned paint smell is gone, but that’s not a problem.  So now, when our home in the valley is sold and we move up to our mountain property and start building our new homestead, we will have a great way to cook outside without having to use up a lot of expensive propane!

While bringing some wood over to the new wood stove to burn, I found this mushroom on one of the logs!  Isn’t it beautiful?wood stove 7 This wood has been piled up for a couple of years and there were several other types of fungi growing on the wood – slowly but surely decomposing the cellulose – adding nutrients to the organic layer of duff on the forest floor.  Mother Nature at her best!

Thanks for coming over for a visit!

 

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You can find me on these blogs:  Clever Chicks Blog Hop; Mix It Up Monday;  Amaze Me MondayMotivation Monday; Inspiration Monday; Made By You MondayHomemaking Mondays; Mum-bo Monday; Show & Share Tuesday; The Scoop; Two Cup Tuesday; Tweak It Tuesday; Inspire Me Tuesdays; Tuesdays at Our Home; Lou Lou GirlsMake, Bake and CreateWildcrafting Wednesday;  Wicked Awesome Wednesday;Whatever goes Wednesday; Wined Down Wednesday; Wake Up Wednesday; Fluster’s Creative Muster; Hump Day Happenings; Homestead Blog Hop; Wow Us Wednesday; Share Your Cup Thursday; Create it Thursday; Think Tank Thursday; Homemaking Party; Treasure Hunt Thursday; All Things ThursdayInspire or be Inspired; Freedom Fridays; Friendship Friday; From The Farm Blog Hop; Eat, Create, Party;  Friday Flash Blog Party; Weekend re-Treat; Family Fun Friday; Friday FavoritesOld Fashioned Friday; Fridays Unfolded; Show Off Friday; Craft Frenzy FridayFront Porch Friday; No Rules Weekend Party; Friday Favorites; Say G’Day SaturdaySuper Saturday; Simply Natural Saturdays;  Saturday Sparks;  Show and Tell Saturday;  My Favorite Things;  Dare to Share; Scraptastic Saturday; Frugal Crafty Home; That DIY Party; Nifty Thrifty Sunday; DIY Sunday Showcase; Snickerdoodle Sunday;  Simple Life Sunday; Think Pink Sunday; Sunday Showcase

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