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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Spring at the Future Homestead

” Spring is nature’s way of saying ‘Let’s Party!’ ”  ~ Robin Williams

Spring has sprung at the future homestead.  I thought I would share a few pictures with you I took on our recent trip up there. We can’t wait until this is our permanent home!

The fruit and nut trees are blooming and the bees are buzzing.

Cherry blossoms

The cherries are blooming! This is a Utah Giant. It had just a few blossoms last year, but no fruit. We hope to get some fruit this year.

We are lucky enough to have some natural pollinators up on the future homestead including mason orchard bees and bumble bees, among others.  We hope to get a few honey bee hives soon – one for the orchard and one for the vegetable garden.

All-In-One Almond Tree

We planted this almond tree last year, so this will be it’s second summer. This is an All-In-One almond. Can you see the little baby almond??!!

We have purchased all of our fruit and nut trees from a wonderful nursery in Nevada City, Ca, called Peaceful Valley.  If you are anywhere near Nevada City, it’s certainly worth a visit.  Of course, they have quite a selection on line and you can visit them here:  Peaceful Valley Grow Organic

The Ambassador Walnut tree seems to be quite happy!  Look at all those catkins!  She is such a young tree, but her enthusiasm tells me we might get a walnut or two this year!

The Ambassador Walnut tree seems to be quite happy! Look at all those catkins! She is such a young tree, but her enthusiasm tells me we might get a walnut or two this year!

We also planted a few artichokes last year and I mulched them heavily over the winter.  Imagine my surprise when I saw them poking out of the mulch, a day after the most recent snow had melted!

mulched artichoke plants

Globe artichokes peaking up through the mulch. I didn’t expect to see them so early in the spring!

Of course, along with the bursting forth of new growth on the plants comes the plant eaters!

Banana slug in Sierra Nevada Mountains

This is the third banana slug we have found on our future homestead. We saw it’s silvery trail and found the 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!

And then the bug eaters –

Western Skink

This is a skink. They have a very long body and tail and look like a slithering snake when they are moving quickly across the ground. Skinks are great bug catchers. Hmmmm. I wonder if they eat banana slugs?

The evenings are still pretty cool, so a warm campfire is always fun.


We have a lot of sticks, twigs and punk wood that we burn in the campfire. This year I want to cook with a dutch oven in the firepit more often. Yum! Marshmallows anyone?

We also set up the “living room”…..

future homestead

This is where we sit for a well deserved rest after working on our future homestead. We haven’t put up the screens yet but those will be necessary soon. Come join me for a cup of coffee – or later this afternoon for a glass of tea!

So, we are ready for another year of preparations to make this our permanent home.  This year we plan to finish our back road, clear an area for a metal shipping container box that we plan to use for storage, clear a patch for our raised bed vegetable garden, and finalize the plans for our new home.  Do you need some exercise?  Come join us!!!!


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Our Gravity Flow Water System – Part 1

Now that we had an orchard we had to figure out a way to water the trees.  Since we are striving to be as sustainable as possible, we decided to collect rainwater during the fall and winter and store it in large water storage tanks for spring and summer irrigation.  The metal roof of the tool shed was an ideal rainwater collector, all we needed to install were the rain gutters and a large storage tank.  The gutters were the easy part.  We bought everything at our local box store and installed them, including the leaf guards, in one weekend.

This is the tool shed before we set it up to collect rainwater.

This is the tool shed before we set it up to collect rainwater.

The hard part was constructing a pad for the water storage tank.  We knew we wanted to put it behind the tool shed, which meant digging a level area large enough and deep enough for the tank to sit below the level of the gutters.  This was necessary to ensure gravity flow of the rainwater from the metal roof top, into the gutters, then the down-spouts and into the top of the water storage tank.Once we had the area dug to our satisfaction (and to the specifications of width and height listed for the tank we wanted to buy), we framed up an area large enough to hold the tank, along with three sides to hold the dirt away from the tank, and poured concrete in three separate pours.  After the concrete was poured Ray installed landscaping timbers as retaining walls on the two sides exactly the same way he did when we built the spot for the trailer (see here).  We used concrete blocks for the back wall simply because this was the wall that would have to hold back most of the dirt.

This was the tool shed after the gutters were installed.  We also installed leafguards on the gutter to filter out the leaves and pine needles.

This was the tool shed after the gutters were installed. We also installed leafguards on the gutter to filter out the leaves and pine needles.

Once the pad was completed we bought an 1,100 gallon water storage tank at an irrigation supply store.  Thank goodness this tank size fit exactly into the back of our F-150 pick-up truck, so we were able to haul it up to the property without much trouble and without having to pay a delivery fee.  We had tied the whole thing down pretty securely in the back of the truck and while we were driving down the highway those ropes and tie-downs were singing to us in the wind!  It was a happy song as they resonated, thrunged and whistled all the way up to our future homestead, and Ray and I laughed almost the whole way.

  • Pouring a Concrete Pad Pouring a Concrete Pad After we dug away what seemed like a mountainside (just kidding) we framed out an area just a little larger than the tank (we checked the specs first!) and began to pour a concrete pad upon which the tank would sit.
  • Retaining Wall Retaining Wall We had to start building the retaining wall on this side ASAP because a rainstorm made the hillside a bit unstable and we were getting a lot of mud on the concrete. Ray built this retaining wall the same way he build the retaining wall for the trailer site.
  • Concrete Blocks Concrete Blocks We decided to place concrete blocks along the back side of the wall because this wall would have to bear the weight of snow and mud, keeping it away from the tank area. We placed rebar in the concrete pad which extended up both courses of concrete blocks, just to ensure those blocks don't break free or slide. Once the blocks were set we filled them with concrete.
  • The Second Retaining Wall The Second Retaining Wall Getting ready to install the second retaining wall.
  • Done Done All done and ready for the water storage tank!
  • Bringing in the Tank Bringing in the Tank Luckily, this 1,100 gallon water storage tank fit almost exactly into the back of our F150 pick-up! With numerous tie-downs, lots of rope and some come-alongs, we were able to haul it up ourselves and avoided the delivery fee.
  • Ready for Rain Ready for Rain The tank fit perfectly! Now all we needed was some rain!

Once the tank was placed in it’s new home and everything was set up, it only took a few rainstorms to fill up the entire tank!  In fact, after a month we had to remove the down-spouts and put the lid on the tank as it was completely full and gushing over!  It was very obvious that after this tank was full, we needed another tank!

Here is our system all ready to go.  The rain slides down the metal roof, into the gutters, down the down-spouts and into the water storage tank!  It only took a few rainstorms to fill up this 1,100 gallon tank!

Here is our system all ready to go. The rain slides down the metal roof, into the gutters, down the down-spouts and into the water storage tank! It only took a few rainstorms to fill up this 1,100 gallon tank!

But Wait, There’s More! So stay tuned but sit tight!  That story is coming up in my next post!


UPDATE:   For Gravity Flow Water System Part 2, Click HERE






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Gravity Flow Irrigation

This is a bigger picture of the “workings” of our water collection system.





Farm Girl Friday Blog Fest


Artichokes and a Yummy Recipe

When it comes to vegetables, I would have to say that artichokes are among my favorites.  This weekend Ray and I were up on our soon to be homestead property and planted some artichokes.  I think we found the perfect spot next to the retaining wall in the orchard where they will get morning and early afternoon sun, but will have shade for the late afternoon heat.  We started with just a few plants for a couple of reasons, the first and most important being that we need more dirt in the area where the artichokes will reside.  So we robbed Peter to pay Paul – or should I say we took dirt from one side of the artichoke bed and put on the other.  That way we can go ahead and get a few plants into the ground now while we add soil to the other side.  We can plant the rest of the artichokes next year when the area has enough soil to make it fairly level.  Also, we didn’t plant in front of the big log retaining wall because we need to replace that log.  Munching insects (termites and carpenter ants) are already making it break down.  Does anyone know any way to organically control these wood eating pests?


Hopefully when this area of the orchard is completely level and filled in with dirt, we will have 24+ artichoke plants!    Mmmmmmm……….  chicken and artichoke pizza, ground turkey and artichoke heart stuffed shells, steamed artichokes dipped in olive oil…… my mouth is watering as I think of these.

So for those of you who have artichokes (and even those who don’t) and were wondering what new and yummy way to use them, I would like to share with you my favorite artichoke heart recipe.  I developed it from several other recipes, adding a little of this and taking away a little of that, until I got it to where I think it is just right!


4 cups of Arrabbiata Sauce.  Make this first:

Brown 4 slices of bacon, which has been chopped or cut into small pieces.  Add 2 cloves of minced garlic and sauté until tender, about 1 minute.  Add 4 cups of marinara sauce.  You can use either jarred or fresh.  Add 1-2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes – 1 teaspoon for milder sauce or 2 teaspoons for a bolder and spicy sauce.  By the way; arrabbiato means angry in Italian—the name of the sauce is due to the heat of the chili peppers.  Let the sauce cool down a bit while you continue on with the recipe.

Cook large pasta shells as package directs, until tender but still firm.  Drain shells and let cool a bit.

While pasta is cooking, brown 1 pound of ground turkey in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add 3 cloves of chopped garlic and 1/2 small yellow onion and cook, stirring, until garlic and onions are softened.  Remove from heat and let cool a bit.

By now you should have your sauce made, your shells cooling and your ground turkey cooling.

Add 1 package (10 ounces) of artichoke hearts or one 15 ounce can of artichoke hearts (drained) to the ground turkey. If you use fresh artichoke hearts, steam or boil them first until they are fairly tender, then chop them into small bite sized pieces. Then add one 15 ounce container of ricotta cheese, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.  The addition of the cheese and eggs helps to cool down the mixture and it should be cool enough to handle at this point.

To assemble the whole dish, lightly spray with oil the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish and add about 1 cup of the arrabbiata sauce – spreading it around to just cover the bottom.  Now, holding a shell in your hand, scoop up about 2 tablespoons of the filling with a spoon and stuff it into the shell.  The filling should mound come just to the top of the shell.  Place the shell into the dish, then repeat until all the shells are filled up and in the dish.  You should get about 20-24 shells stuffed, depending on how much filling you put into each shell.  Cover the top of the shells with the rest of the arrabbiata sauce and then sprinkle with some mozzarella cheese (however much you like – we like a lot of cheese!).

Bake at about 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until the center of the shells are hot and the cheese is just starting to brown.

Instead of making one whole 9 x 13 dish of these shells, I like to freeze them in smaller portions of 6 shells – just right for dinner for my husband and I with a green or fruit salad.  This way I get four meals out of one afternoon of cooking, which works out great for those days when we have been working hard on the future homestead and I don’t have the energy to cook!  They freeze very well, just remember to either thaw them before you cook, or double the cooking time if still frozen.

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