We Got Our Building Permit!

Wahoo ¬† ūüôā

It’s about time!  We finally got our building permit!

We can’t wait to get started! ¬†Some friends of ours gave us a bottle of wine from their new vineyard (thanks Ronda and Leonard!), and as soon as we break ground for the footings, we are going to open that bottle and celebrate!

The Reynoso Brothers hard at work last year, getting our building site ready to build.

Right now we are in the process of finding our ‚Äúsubs‚ÄĚ.¬† We decided to go ahead and build the house by ourselves, acting as our own contractor, and subcontract out the stuff we can‚Äôt or don‚Äôt want to do, including the concrete footings and slab, rough plumbing and electrical, interior wall framing and the roof. ¬†Fastwall is supposed to be a DIY building project, and since we live on the site, have sound bodies, and are reasonably intelligent, we figured we should be able to stack the walls ourselves. ¬†Paul Wood, one of the owners of Faswall, has been very helpful so far and has all the technical knowledge in his head, so we are hoping to rely on him when we get into any pickles… and I am certain we will!

In the meantime, we are trying to get at least three estimates for each of the above specialties‚Ķ except for the concrete footings and slab.¬† We already signed a contract with the company who cleared our building pad last year: ¬†The Reynoso Brothers. When they were up here last spring, they came on time, did exactly what they said they would (and more), and were reasonably priced.¬† So, we felt that it was a ‚Äúno-brainer‚ÄĚ to go with them again.

Some of our “raw” backyard that we are getting cleaned up to provide defensible space in the event of a wildfire.

While waiting for the estimates, we have been trying to develop¬†our “defensible space” around the house site, which is required to get our final inspection approved. ¬†This has been hard, dusty, sweaty work. ¬†We need to rake up the loose “duff”, pull out a lot of trees and bushes, remove the¬†dead wood, and cut off the lower 6-8 feet of limbs from the trees. ¬†Once this is all done, we should have the “park-like” setting we have always envisioned around the house.

Finding a plumber has been quite a challenge.  Apparently, plumbers can make more money fixing leaky toilets and replacing water heaters than they can doing rough plumbing in a new house. Barry, the House Planner who did our electrical plans (since our architect or engineer wouldn’t do them) told us that the plumbing really wasn’t hard to do, and that we should just go down to the library and get some books to figure out how to do the plumbing ourselves and save a ton of money!  Hmmmmm… that’s a scary thought. Still, it would be nice to save some money.  I just wish we could find a plumber who (for a fee) would draw a plumbing plan and give us a list of all the stuff we would need, along with some technical advice, and then we could do it ourselves.  Are there any plumbers out there that do this kind of thing?

Our house site, ready to go! ¬†We have wooden stakes at all four corners, and also delineating the back patio. ¬†Unfortunately, we have pretty much given up on keeping these in the ground because our neighbor’s dogs seem to think they are sticks to “go fetch”! ¬†ūüėČ

As far as the outside walls that make up the shell of the house, I am pleased to announce that they are on our build site… mostly!

Here are all the stacked pallets of our Faswall blocks… all 30 of them, in the yard at Endeavor Homes. ¬†Faswall could fit only these 30 pallets on the delivery truck, so we still have 2 more pallets coming.

We are building our home with Faswall, which is a type of insulated concrete form (ICF).¬† The ICFs are 12 inches thick and 24 inches long.¬† Their shape is similar to concrete blocks (CMUs), but are made from shredded wood mixed with concrete, with a 3‚ÄĚ insulation insert.¬† Once we stack the blocks about 4-5 feet tall around the entire perimeter of the house, concrete is poured into the center voids, which will make a grid pattern of concrete in our walls.¬† So basically, it will be a concrete house, which is good to have in a forest.

Loading the pallet onto our trailer

We have been hauling the blocks up to our property two pallets at a time.¬† Unfortunately, we have to break them down (one block at a time) into half high pallets for a more stable trip up the mountain to our property, and once on site we unload each block individually, stacking them 6 blocks high, into groups of block type.¬† You see, there are the ‚ÄúNormal‚ÄĚ blocks that make up the majority of the walls.¬† Then, there are the corners, the end blocks, and the normal blocks with smaller 2‚ÄĚ insulation.¬† The 2‚ÄĚ insulation blocks are for certain areas in the walls that need a bit more concrete for structural support, so the insulation is thinner.¬† And then there are the specialty blocks, that can be easily cut in half and used as end blocks.¬† I will get to the shape and purpose of those blocks in my next post. Special thanks to my youngest son, Michael, for helping haul a lot of pallets!

Unloading the Faswall blocks on our building site.

So far we have hauled 24 of the 30 pallets delivered up to our build site.¬† Faswall still needs to deliver 2 more pallets of blocks (only 30 fit on the truck), and apparently those will be coming soon.¬† The blocks were delivered to a large yard owned by Endeavor Homes, a company that sells lumber and ‚Äúkit‚ÄĚ houses, because we weren‚Äôt sure that the semi-truck delivering our block would be able to get into our build site.¬† Nor could we find a forklift to rent, so that we could off-load the delivery truck.¬† The guys at Endeavor unloaded our blocks and let us use their space for free!¬† Of course, we will be buying lumber from them, but these days it is so hard to find anything free and we are so grateful for their generosity! ¬†Thank you so much Dell!

This is a stack of the standard block with 3″ insulation.

Lifting and stacking those blocks is really getting me into shape. You should see my biceps!¬† ¬†By the time we get done with the Faswall, we will have lifted almost every block by hand three times ‚Äď once to get it stacked on the trailer, once to unload on the house site, and once more when we actually build the walls.¬† The best news is that so far we could find only six blocks that are damaged.¬† We will wait until we get the rest of the block up here, so that we can take a final accounting, but I am assuming Faswall will replace the damaged blocks.¬† Out of the hundreds and hundreds of blocks we have handled so far, I think only six damaged blocks is pretty darn good!

So… what’s next?

The Reynoso Brothers will be coming up in a few weeks to dig, frame and then pour our concrete footings.  Of course, that’s if we can get concrete.  Our new home is about a 45 minute drive above Oroville Dam, and you might remember hearing about the Oroville Dam spillway failure early this past spring.  So, the dam repair is getting first priority for concrete, which of course, they should!

And here we are trying to build a concrete house…

The truth is, however, that we have come this far and there is no going back now, so we will just have to take the concrete when we can get it.

I can’t wait!  I can’t wait!  I am so excited to be finally building our new home!

 

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Strawberries Gone Wild!

I love strawberries and would eat them every day if I could. ¬†Alas, strawberries are at the top of the list of the “Dirty Dozen”, and so I try not to buy any that aren’t labeled as organic, which means they are usually more expensive. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that I grow my own!

When I was a child living at home, my father always grew strawberries in our backyard… way, way back in the backyard. ¬†I would help him pull weeds and trap slugs, but generally, strawberry growing was his hobby. ¬†Now that I look back, I realize it was the solitude he enjoyed while gardening, and I must have been quite the pest! ¬†My poor father was truly drowning in estrogen, having three daughters and no sons, and I am sure he enjoyed his quiet time away from his three incessantly chatty daughters! ¬†ūüėČ

Mouse trap for organic pest control

Everyone likes strawberries… unfortunately!

The¬†first year growing strawberries up here on our homestead, the harvest was just okay. Between the birds, the banana slugs, voles and the mice, we had a hard time getting any of the harvest for ourselves! And, since we didn’t actually live here yet, we had to rely on some automatic sprinklers to water the berry plants, and unfortunately no all the plants got the water they needed. ¬†We planted Ozark Beauty and Quinault¬†Strawberries, because those were the two varieties we found at our local nursery. That winter I covered the bed with a thick mulch of pine needles and oak leaves. ¬†It worked and the strawberries came back thicker than they had been the previous year. But again, we had problems with critters.

Last spring I added some Seascape strawberries from The Sustainable Seed Co., along with the Ozark and Ouilette strawberries, to a new, raised bed. ¬†I have been extremely happy with this “new-to-me” variety. ¬†The Seascapes¬†are fairly large with a very sweet flavor, and produce a fairly heavy crop in the late summer.

Nice!

This past winter, instead of applying the pine needle and oak leaf mulch, I used a frost blanket over the raised strawberry bed.

When I pulled it off this late winter, I was surprised to see some new growth already! Although the pine needle and oak leaf mulch had worked well, I was worried that so much organic matter might be harboring some pests, like the huge banana slugs that we encounter up here from time to time.  Well, the frost blanket actually did a better job, and I was able to check under it on warm winter days to see if there were any critters under there.  Since it kept the strawberry plants frost free and it was easy to lift the blanket to check for slugs, this is something I will certainly use from now on.

Even though I had been cutting off a lot of the “runners” so that I would have larger plants (and more strawberries) in the long-run, the plants continued to put out¬†the runners, even in the fall. ¬†And run they did, everywhere, apparently even during the winter under the blanket!

Strawberries gone wild!

After taking off the blanket off this spring, I saw that I needed to thin out a lot of the plants within the bed and also alongside the bed. In fact, some of the strawberries tried to set roots into our log retaining wall!

Silly plants!

So, here we were with quite a few “extra” strawberry plants. ¬†Since I don’t have my permanent beds made yet, I had to find places to tuck the new plants. Once the permanent beds are done (another year away) I will be able to re-home these new plants into their forever beds. ¬†And by that time, the original strawberry plants will be past their prime. ¬†Strawberries produce best during their second year, and then usually decline in production after that. ¬†But the runners are their way of renewing and giving us new plants.

Isn’t nature cool?

To keep out the birds, Ray built this great bird netting structure for me.  When I need to harvest the berries, all I have to do is throw the netting up over the structure to get into the bed.  It works really well.  Also, having the bed raised seems to deter at least some of the banana slugs.

We have been reading lots of books and have attended a few seminars on companion planting and land use, and realized that some of the new strawberry plants would be perfect in the pepper bed, because not only do the strawberry and pepper plants “like” each other, the large strawberry leaves would shade the soil around the pepper plants, keeping the soil a bit cooler and helping to reserve water.

I also have had a cute terracotta strawberry pot that we brought up from our previous home in the valley. ¬†I had planted this with herbs years ago and it didn’t work very well. ¬†So, since I had so many new plants, I decided to try the pot again. ¬†So far, so good!

What have I done with all my strawberries?

Well, my dear husband and I just adore sliced strawberries with cottage cheese for an evening dessert.  It tastes like strawberry ice cream!

I also wanted to try out my Sun Oven as a dehydrator, and thought I would try out a batch of strawberry fruit leather.

First I washed and hulled the strawberries, then whirled them up in my little blender.

Next, I added some of our delicious honey, about 2 tablespoons, and set the pot on the stove to simmer. ¬†The strawberry/honey pulp simmered for about 20 minutes and reduced in volume by about half. ¬†Now the pulp was a bit thicker and didn’t spread so easily.

I placed some parchment paper on my cookie sheet and poured the pulp on.  Perfect.

Unfortunately, while carrying the pan to the Sun Oven, it tipped a bit and the pulp spread out a little more than I had planned, but I went ahead with the process anyway.

The Sun Oven worked great!  With the glass door propped open, it stayed at about 200 degrees, which was perfect!  Once I could lightly press my finger into the top of the thickest part of the pulp and nothing smooshed out, I knew the pulp was now fruit leather. You can also see that the fruit surface looks like leather!

I placed the pan inside on the table¬†so the leather could cool down, and once it was cool, I used scissors to cut the leather into strips. ¬†Don’t take off the parchment paper! ¬† Now that the strips were cut, I was able to roll each one up, and then place into a glass mason jar for storage. ¬†

That’s it! ¬†Easy, peasy! ¬†Nature’s candy!

Next week I am going to make some peach leather from my oldest son’s peaches. ¬†Can you believe he already has ripe peaches?

Where I party:

Gardening in the Orchard

While we wait (and wait) to get our building permit, we have kept ourselves occupied and sane with our garden/orchard. ¬†We made raised boxes in the orchard¬†a few years ago, when the trees were little babies. ¬†Now, as the trees are starting to reach a more mature height and width, many of the planting boxes in my garden don’t get enough sunlight! ¬†So, obviously, this will be the last year I garden in the orchard.

The reason we put the garden in the orchard in the first place was because we needed to water everything automatically, as we were still living 1-1/2 hours away in the valley and coming up to water every other weekend or so.  We set up an automatic watering system with zero pressure timers (hard to find) and small tubes to distribute the water.  Now that we are living here, we can water every day by hand, if needed, and the watering system has been largely dismantled

So, here is my picture heavy post of all the happenings in the garden/orchard.

First up… ¬†Strawberries! ¬†Lots of them.

Next I want to show you the zucchini and yellow crook neck squash.  We put them in a raised bed that we moved to outside of the shade of the larger trees in the orchard between a couple of small peach trees.

The yellow squash has gone absolutely nuts!

Can you see the celery in there? ¬†Ray and I attended a workshop at the Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa last year that taught us a lot about gardening that we didn’t know. ¬†One thing they stressed was the need to plant in every available space – which provides living mulch, companion advantages (one of my favorite books is “Carrots Love Tomatoes”), and actually uses less water. ¬†We also learned a bit about rotation of crops and succession planting. ¬†So, we took our lesson to heart and planted the celery with the squash, peppers with strawberries, and squash with corn.

Speaking of peppers with strawberries:

They seem to be doing well together.  We have already picked off a few red bell peppers, before they got red, because the poor plants were barely big enough to support them yet!

And then there are the beans. ¬†I love black turtle beans and plant them every year. ¬†The first ones I planted were from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and I have been selecting the biggest and best plants to collect seed for the next year’s crop. ¬†This is the third year of saving my own seed. ¬†The black turtle beans are bush beans, which works well for me because I put the kentucky wonder pole beans on the opposite side of the bed, where they can climb up the trellis without shading the black beans.

Of course, I couldn’t have a garden without some tomatoes, garlic and basil… right? ¬†You can barely see them, but there is some spinach seedlings just reaching their first set of leaves up to the sky. ¬†Sounds like a good salad to me! ¬†Oh, and the nasturtium flowers are also edible, and add a colorful spicy note to a salad. ¬†They will be blooming about the same time as I will be able to¬†harvest a few spinach leaves.¬†

The potatoes are starting to bloom. ¬†I have three of these potato towers in the garden. ¬†If you have never seen this before, it’s a way of growing lots of potatoes in a small space in your garden. ¬†This variety is the Yellow Finn potato.

I was very pleased that Steve made it through the winter. ¬†Oh, you haven’t met Steve? Well, let me introduce you.

This is Steve, my stevia plant!  He is now four years old.

We had to uproot our two artichoke plants last year because the poor dears kept getting nipped on their toes by our &$@#%(& voles and/or gophers. ¬†But, they are doing well nonetheless. ¬†I can’t wait to be able to get them in the ground again, but since our perennial garden is going to be near the house, they will just have to wait. ¬†Once house is built, we will be able to get our permanent perennial beds done.

And then, there is this monster. ¬†It’s a spaghetti squash. ¬†I try to grow something new every year to see if it is something I should keep in my garden. ¬†Last year I tried Fava (broad) beans and Amaranth.

Okay.

So, I thought I would plant two of the three sisters together – corn and squash. ¬†Well, I should have planted the corn first, waited a few weeks, THEN planted the squash. ¬†The poor corn can barely see the light of day because the squash is growing and GROWING! I put a tomato cage around it hoping to contain it, but obviously that’s not gonna happen. Seriously, I think I can hear it growing! ¬†Since I like to name my plants, I think I will call¬†this one Audrey! ¬†Hopefully she won’t be a maneater ūüėČ

To the left of the squash is my lemon balm. ¬†I use that for my tea also, for a refreshing lemony taste without the lemon. ¬†A crushed up stevia leaf and that’s all I need. ¬†Ahhhhhhhhhh

Tucked in here and there are a few marigolds, some sweet pea and the nastirtums. ¬†They are supposed to repel some bad bugs but bring in the good ones. ¬†We’ll see. ¬†Even if they don’t, they will be pretty in the garden anyway.

And the last picture? ¬†Today’s harvest, of course!

 

This is where the party is:Thank Goodness It’s Monday; Clever Chicks Blog Hop; Grand Social; Mix It Up Monday; Create, Link, Inspire;  Amaze Me Monday,  Homemaking Mondays; Show & Share Tuesday; The Gathering Spot; Brag About It; Tuesdays 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; Our Simple Homestead; Share Your Cup Thursday;  Home and Garden Thursday;  The Handmade Hangout; Think Tank Thursday;  Homemaking Party;  This Is How We Roll; No Rules Weekend Party;  Friendship Friday;  Family Fun Friday; Friday’s Five Features; Awesome Life Friday;  Home Matters; Traffic Jam Weekend; Saturday Sparks;  Dare to Share; Scraptastic Saturday; Share It One More Time; Happiness is Homemade; Anything Goes Pink Saturday; Simple Saturdays; That DIY Party;  DIY Sunday Showcase; Snickerdoodle Sunday;   Best of the Blogosphere; Small Victories Sunday

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 ‚Äúlemonaia‚ÄĚ, 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 Рmuch 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‚Äôt… 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 ‚Äúfruits of our labor‚ÄĚ 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:

 

 

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