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:


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.


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.



The Self Sufficient HomeAcre



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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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