Our Homestead in Drought

We took a vacation up to our future homestead this past week and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!  Our friends Shelley and Bruce invited us over for a Fourth of July Party and we had so much fun visiting with lots of our neighbors.  We met the “new guy” who just recently purchased property in our area, made some new friends, and Ray found a new fishing partner!

Between clearing an area to place a shipping container to use as a storage shed, getting our valley house ready to put on the market, and  bad nonexistent internet service on the future homestead, I haven’t been blogging much lately. Plus, I found out that I have bursitis, tendonitis and a probable healing rotator cuff tear in my right shoulder… and I’m right handed!  Ugh!  Hopefully physical therapy will get me back on track.

The drought here in California isn’t getting any better.

California lake in drought

This high mountain lake about 1/2 hour from our future homestead is usually one of the last lakes to get drained in the fall. At this time of year the water is usually way up and spilling over the dam.  Unfortunately, it’s already pretty low because there just wasn’t any snowpack to fill it up.

Anyhow…  there are a lot of things happening on the future homestead:

gooseberries

The gooseberries are starting to ripen, though because of our drought I don’t think we have half as many as we did last year.  In fact, some of the bushes that were loaded last year have only a dozen or so gooseberries this year.  It’s a shame.  However, I do think I will get enough to make a batch of gooseberry jelly.

blackberries

The blackberries look even worse.  The berries that are developing look very small and will probably be very seedy, and I think it’s too late to water them, though I don’t think I would anyway.  While I know they will still make a great jelly, I was hoping to get some nice juicy ones to can into pie filling this year.  This is the recipe I wanted to use: http://oursimplelife-sc.com/blackberry-pie-filling-recipe    Maybe the hubby and I can take a ride down to our local creek and find a few plump, ripe berries.

ripening rose hips

Even the rose hips that I planned to harvest this year for a healthy and delicious tea are already starting to ripen, which is way earlier than I remember this happening in previous years.  At least they look somewhat plump, despite the drought.  I guess I will just have to harvest earlier than I had planned.

woodpile torn up

And then, near our campfire ring where our wood  is  was stacked, some critter tore it to pieces and made quite a mess.  I assume whatever it was (bear, raccoon, dog), was going after some critter that had made a nest in the woodpile.  Unfortunately, if you look at the bottom of the picture, you can see the beginnings of a poison oak bush, which is why I didn’t clean up this mess right away.  UGH!  I hate poison oak and unfortunately it likes me! 🙁  I will just have to keep my Technu and Stri-Dex pads on the ready.

Along with all the bad news due to our current drought here in California, we still have some good to report:

irrigation using rain barrels

The new zero pressure water timer and irrigation system we set up for our raised boxes is working well!  These tomatoes have absolutely tripled in size and are in full bloom!

ambassador walnuts

Our two year old Ambassador walnut tree has seven walnuts on it!  Heavens to Betsy – they aren’t supposed to produce until they are at least five years old, but this one seems to be extremely happy.  We weren’t positive that walnuts would grow well in our area, but apparently they do!

Redhaven Peach

Our Redhaven peach tree has three nice peaches on it, and at the rate that they are taking on color, they should be ripe in about a week.  Unfortunately our apricots didn’t put on any fruit this year, probably because we had a snowstorm just when they were starting to bloom, and the few cherries that we had were eaten by birds.  But, we are very hopeful that within a few years our small orchard will be providing us with lots of fruits and nuts!

purple thistle to make vegetable rennet

Finally, the purple thistle is starting to bloom again.  Apparently they aren’t bothered much by drought, because they seem to be as numerous and as big as they were last year! It’s time for me to start harvesting the purple thistle (before the down develops) so that I can continue my experiments with using it as a vegetable rennet to make cheese.  Now that our local natural foods market sells raw goats milk, I have all I need to make fresh goat cheese!  Click HERE to read about how to make rennet out of purple thistle.

Because of this drought we are seeing a lot more beetle activity and wasps on the future homestead, partly because they didn’t die off during the winter because of our warm temperatures, and partly because the drought weakened trees aren’t able to resist the beetle invasion.  We may lose some of our pine trees because of this. 🙁

On the brighter side, our well seems to be holding it’s own.  So far.  Since we were able to get three 1,100 gallon water storage tanks full from the winter rains, we haven’t had to pump much water from the well, which is a good thing.

Until next time – stay happy, healthy and as honest as you can be.

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The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

 

 

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New Boxes from Old Fences!

I sighed.  Then I sighed again. Louder.

“What’s the matter?” dearest husband asked.

“Everyone has a garden but me. I miss having a garden”, I whined pouted said.

“But we can’t have a garden, remember?”

This has been the general conversation around our house for the last month or so.  Every blog I read is gushing over with pictures of happy little seedlings peaking out of the ground, questions about whether the frost is finally over, and even those in the South who are already harvesting.

melon

I grew some wonderful melons last year!

I’m jealous.  I had a garden last year and it was wonderful!  I had a bumper crop of tomatoes and peppers, my black turtle beans did very well and I still have some green beans left in my freezer!  My grandson and I had a beautiful crop of sunflower seeds that were at least 15 feet tall when all was said and done, with heads a foot across!  I harvested some beets and a few misshaped carrots.  I dealt with squash mosaic virus and ended up losing all of my zucchini plants to that dreaded disease – lessons learned.  And the corn?  Well, lets just say that it looked great, but I didn’t stagger my harvest so we only ate fresh corn for a couple of weeks. That’s okay – I froze the rest.  My greatest pleasure was when my grandchildren came over to help.  And also my first ever purple potato harvest! This year I still have remnants of last year’s garden with volunteer tomato, bean and sunflower plants.  I potted up some of the tomatoes, but without garden space, the beans and sunflowers will just have to be tilled under for the sod.  Sigh.

I had a beautiful bumper crop of anaheim chile plants last year.

I had a beautiful bumper crop of anaheim chile plants last year.

I miss gardening.  But, we are preparing our home to sell (so we can move up to our future homestead – hooray!) and the real estate professionals say that gardens do not sell houses, pretty, green, un-ecological, water-wasting, nitrogen eating lawns do.  So, last year’s garden will soon be a sea of green sod.  Sigh.

But, my husband loves me – yes he does!  Last month he replaced one of our fences and still had most of the boards piled in a corner.  So, do you know what that sweetheart did?  He built me some raised boxes out of the old fence boards and set up an automatic irrigation system to boot up on our future homestead!  Did I tell you I have the best husband in the world?

Salvaged raised bed boxes

The old fence had seen better days, but we were going to give it a new life!

The boards are cedar and they are still in fairly good shape.  The 2×4 rails, however, had seen better days. But we picked through and found the best ones to build the boxes with. Ray decided to make the boxes two boards high, or about 12″ tall.  He used the 2 x 4’s as stakes and support, while the boards made the sides.  When all of the pieces were assembled, Ray cut the pieces and parts on the tailgate of his pick-up truck.  We decided to go with a 2′ x 5′ planting bed simply because after trimming all the rotten and split wood off the boards, this is the largest bed we could have!

Raised Garden Boxes out of Salvaged Wood

The ground is hard clay, which is another reason to build raised boxes for the vegetable garden. We were able to save that beautiful wild iris in the middle of the picture!

Once the raised box pieces and parts were cut, we needed to dig a bit of a hole in the dirt where each 2 x 4 post was going to go, fill it with water to soak into the clay soil, then dig a few more inches.  Whew – that was the hardest part!  Once the ground had softened a bit, Ray pounded the 2 x 4 posts into the ground until they were good and solid (he had cut a V in the bottom of each post).  Well, maybe that was the hardest part.

Then came time to screw the boards into the 2 x 4 posts.  A few of the boards cracked a little, but they generally held up good and solid, and so the boxes were done!

Now Ray set up an automatic watering system because, sadly, we can’t be up on our future homestead all of the time.  When we had the garden in our backyard last year we used a watering system that took advantage of the risers from our previous lawn’s sprinklers (which will now be converted back to lawn sprinklers).

Raised box automatic watering gardening system

Here is the CIA (Central Irrigation Apparatus) of our watering system.

This watering “outlet hub” screwed into the risers and had eight ports  to which the watering lines are attached.  Ray knew this would work well and he patterned our new system much like our gravity fed system we have worked out for our orchard, with an automatic timer.  The hub was placed on a wooden stake to keep it upright, which was right smack dab in the middle of the boxes he built.  He then cut the water lines to the lengths needed to reach the center of each planting box and attached them to the hub.  The timer was hooked up to the spigot at the bottom of one of our 1,100 gallon water storage tanks and was set to run 15 minutes every morning.

The first test didn’t go so well.  At first all eight water lines had water coming out the ends, then a couple lines sputtered and a few stopped water flow completely.  Ray detatched the water hose from under the hub and discovered that ants had set up a nest in the hose, and had caused a blockage in the hub system!  Ugh.  After that was cleared we tried again.  Perfect!

I filled the boxes with some purchased organic garden soil, some native clay soil, and some of our lovely compost, planted the volunteer tomatoes and watered them in.  It’s a good thing we got them transplanted because their roots were coming out of the bottom of the hole in the pot and a few got torn during the transplant!  Because of this, I was worried that they might wilt, so I gave them an extra dose of water. It will be fun to see which type of tomatoes these turn out to be. Last year I grew 4 different types of tomatoes, from yellow and red heirlooms to some really good sweet-as-candy grape tomatoes.

Old Fence becomes Planter Boxes

The tomatoes finally have a home where they can spread their roots! 😉

The next morning I checked on them and – sure nuf – they had been watered by the automatic system (yes!) and they were not wilted at all (double yes!).   Next week I will get some more plants for the other boxes Ray built – maybe peppers – although it might be a bit late for this season.  But, at least the boxes will be ready for a fall crop!  🙂

So now I have a vegetable garden afterall, even if it’s just a couple of tomato plants!  I may not get to see it but once every other week or so.  Yeah – I may even end up with a lot of rotten tomatoes because I won’t be there to pick them every day.  But at least I have a garden now.

I just wish I could be there every day to tend to it!  Sigh.

While I can’t garden every day, perhaps I can live vicariously through YOUR garden!  So – please tell me – how does your garden grow?

Our Three Peas
Green Thumb Thursday

 

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Water Storage Tank

Where we live here in California, we have been experiencing a terrible drought.  During our rainy months of December, January and most of February we were dry, dry, dry.  The weather was beautiful – in the 60’s and 70’s – so at first no one was complaining.  Then the news reports began to show the level of our reservoirs, and let me tell you, it’s not pretty.  It’s actually kinda scary! On our way up to our future homestead, we pass over one of California’s major reservoirs and recently got some sad pictures:

Lake Oroville during drought

This whole area should be full of water, not a little creek down at the bottom!  There are many exposed items of interest that haven’t seen the light of day for years!  Below is a picture of a wall built by the Chinese during California’s gold rush days.  The park rangers have also had to patrol areas where Native American artifacts have been exposed because ignorant (the nicest word I could think of) people have been vandalizing and stealing them! Chinese Wall at Lake Oroville

Our biggest concern is that our well will dry up this year.  The likelihood of this happening is pretty good because of the drought and the fact that the neighbor to our south has been farming a crop that takes a lot of water these last two years.  Last year his generator ran pretty much nonstop to pump water out of his well, which is directly below ours, to irrigate said crops!  Of course, there really isn’t anything we can do about this (at least I don’t think there is) except prepare for the worst!

A couple of weeks ago, our storm door finally opened!  Yay!  We have actually had a few rainy days!  Since we had planned to eventually place a water storage tank behind our new outhouse, to collect water from the metal outhouse roof, down the gutter and into the storage tank, and our other two tanks were finally full (finally!), we decided now was as good a time as ever!

We checked around for prices and, of course, the price had gone up everywhere! Apparently a lot of people have had the same idea. I understand the principals of supply and demand, but that is just so unfair!  When we found the most reasonably priced tank nearby at 1,100 gallons, we loaded it up on our truck (they fit perfectly in our F150 pickup) and headed up to our future homestead. Installing a Water Storage Tank

The first thing we had to do was clear an area behind the outhouse to place the tank.  We measured the footprint of the tank to determine how big of an area that needed to be cleared and leveled. The area was full of decaying wood, small bushes, poison oak and little critters.  Of course, two days later I found a few spots of poison oak on my arm, just above the area protected by my glove!  Grrrrrrr.  Right now is the worst time to get exposed to the nasty stuff because as the poison oak is just starting to sprout new leaves, the resins are flowing quite freely in the vine!  One think I have noticed over the years, however, is that lavender essential oil takes out some of the itch.  Luckily I only got a few spots this time.

orange and black salamanderWe found several critters when we moved a decaying stump to clear this area, and the first was this little salamander.  Salamanders live in cool, moist areas.  I am not sure what type of salamander this is, but judging by it’s coloration and from what I have read on the internet, this one might have some poison in it’s skin as a defense mechanism. We spotted a total of five of these little critters and relocated them to a safer place.

Another critter that we found in A millipede in forest duffabundance were millipedes!  We must have found at least two dozen of them in this small area!  We also saved the millipedes as we found them because they are wonderful composters of all the leafy duff found on the forest floor.  Even though they look big (some are easily 6 inches long) and scary, the millipede is perfectly safe to pick up with a bare hand – unlike a centipede!

Saving Rainwater in a TankOnce the area was cleared of duff, downed wood, bushes, poison oak, millipedes and salamanders, we needed to get the base leveled.  We dug dirt from the back and threw to the front and added just a bit extra to the lower front half, because we knew that the weight of water in the tank would squash down the freshly fluffed up dirt.

After just a few hours of preparation, we were able to roll to tank into position.  These plastic water storage tanks are surprising light and easy to handle!  Just tip on it’s side and roll wherever you need them to be!

Water Storage Tank for collecting rainwater

We haven’t attached a rain gutter system to our outhouse yet, so right now the new tank can’t collect rainwater.  But, since another storm was on it’s way, we decided to pump the water from the middle tank, which collects rainwater from the tool shed roof, into this new water tank.  That way, we can collect more rainwater in the middle tank.  Pumping the water took just a few hours.

So, we now have three 1,100 gallon water storage tanks:  One right next to our fruit and nut orchard, another behind our tool shed, and the third (the one we just installed) behind the outhouse.  We have a spot to put a fourth tank, near the orchard and above the first orchard tank, but that may have to wait until this next fall.  These water storage tanks provide water for our fruit and nut orchard through a gravity fed automatic watering system, which is necessary because we don’t live there yet and can’t be there to water the trees as often as necessary.  If you would like to read about how we set up our gravity fed automatic watering system, you can click here and here.

The morning after we set up this new tank, as we were preparing to leave, it started to rain!  Cool. 🙂

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Our Gravity Flow Water System – Part 2

We had the basics of our gravity flow watering system set up and the 1,100 gallon water storage tank was already full.  We needed another tank!  Since the first one was installed behind the tool shed, we figured we would use that one as our main “gathering” tank.  We siphon the water from that first tank when it was full to the second tank that we would put closer to the garden.  The second tank would be our “delivery” tank and would be the one the timers and watering lines would be connected to.

So we went online to check out prices and found that Tractor Supply was the cheapest in the area for what we wanted, and once an area near the orchard was prepared, we went down to our local Tractor supply and bought another 1,100 gallon water storage tank.  Again, it fit easily into the back of the truck.  We tied that tank down to the truck with lots of rope and straps, then set out on our merry way up to the property.

Unfortunately, it was a very windy day.  Instead of hearing the ropes and tie-downs sing to us, as was our experience with the first tank, this time it was scary.  We took the back roads and kept away from the highway, just in case.  An empty tank is surprisingly lightweight in spite of it’s large size, and the wind was catching the tank and blowing it to and fro.  We stopped and checked our ropes after a few miles and everything seemed to be okay, so we cautiously continued on our way.  Then a huge gust of wind hit the truck and the tank and, as quick as a wink, the tank tore through the ropes and went sailing across the road.  We took the back roads because the traffic was usually light, but as luck would have it a car was coming from the opposite direction just as the tank went free and was nearly hit.  I could see the whites of that poor guy’s eyes!  We stopped the truck and looked around to see if the guy was okay. He had pulled over to the side (probably to check his underwear) but then suddenly took off.  We were expecting to at least apologize, but he didn’t give us the chance.  So, if you are out there and recognize yourself —  we are so sorry for probably giving you the scare of your life!

The tank itself was scratched up a bit, but really was not harmed at all.  It took a bit of doing, but we got it back up on the truck and this time used twice as much rope and tie-downs and bungees and come-alongs and whatever else we could find!  Luckily we made it up to the future homestead without any more incidents.

The second tank near the orchard, which is fed water from the first tank behind the tool shed.

The second tank near the orchard, which is fed water from the first tank behind the tool shed.

Once the tank was set, we needed to figure out a system to get the water from the tank to the trees.  Ray devised two manifold systems from PVC pipes and fittings.  The manifold  was fed water from the tank by a short hose and then the manifold divided up the water into 5 or 6 separate hoses that each went to a tree.  This worked great.  But now we had to find a timer turn on the whole system when we weren’t there.  Believe it or not, with all the new hype on rainwater systems and such, it’s hard to find a timer that will work with little to no pressure!  Seriously, look at most of the timers you can find at your local box stores or even online – most require at least 10 pounds of pressure.  You don’t get 10 pounds of pressure from rain barrels or most rainwater systems.  To get water pressure from rainwater, you need to elevate the storage tank.  For each foot of height you get 0.43 PSI (pounds per square inch) of pressure.  So to be able to get the required 10 psi, we would have to raise our water storage tank about 22 feet.  That is why most municipal water storage towers are so tall.

The hose from the tank delivers water to a manifold Ray devised from PVC pipes and fittings, which divides the water into 5 smaller hoses, each leading to a tree.

The hose from the tank delivers water to a manifold Ray devised from PVC pipes and fittings, which divides the water into 5 smaller hoses, each leading to a tree.

Luckily, while doing his research on the internet, Ray discovered a water timer that works on 0 pressure!  He bought two of the Gilmour zero pressure battery timer at Drip Works (please see note below)  and we have been very pleased.  Now our irrigation system is complete and the orchard is watered whether we are there or not.  Isn’t convenience wonderful!    Posted at Small Footprint Fridays

This shows two of the Gilmour zero water pressure battery timers on the tank by the orchard.  When the timer turns on, the water flows down the hose, to the manifold, then is delivered to each tree individually.  Cool!

This shows two of the Gilmour zero water pressure battery timers on the tank by the orchard. When the timer turns on, the water flows down the hose, to the manifold, then is delivered to each tree individually. Cool!

NOTE:  I got a heads-up today that my link to Drip Works for the no pressure timer no longer works.  On further investigation, I found out why….. unfortunately, Drip Works no longer sells these no pressure timers!  Why?  Because Gilmour no longer makes them! 🙁   🙁 

NOTE:  Hooray!  DripWorks now has the Toro Zero Pressure Battery Operated Timer.  It isn’t digital like the old Gilmour one (which might actually be a good thing) but costs about the same!  You can use it on rain barrels and such because it does not need water pressure to open the gate valve – the battery does that!  Yes!  Here is the link:   http://www.dripworks.com/category/s?keyword=TOZPT           This will bring you directly to the dripworks page that sells this Toro ZPT (zero pressure timer).  At the time of this writing – September 12, 2013 – the cost is $35.95.

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