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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Frozen Tomatoes to Sauce

Last summer my heirloom tomatoes did so well that I had a tomato jungle.  The plants had grown to monstrous proportions and were producing more tomatoes than my hubby and I could eat or give away, and I must admit that several tomatoes died in the vegetable bin of my refrigerator. 🙁

Then I read a blog (I wish I could remember which one) that said if you planned to make your tomatoes into sauce, just rinse them off and throw them into your freezer – whole!  As-is!  Then, when you had time you could process them into tomato sauce.

So, that’s just what I did……….. then I forgot about them.

Last week I purchased a bunch of pork chops that were half price at my local store. 🙂  I brought them home and used my sucky machine (aka FoodSaver) to prepare them for the freezer.  But when I tried to slide the packages into my deep freeze, I found that I didn’t have any room left!  My freezer runneth over!  Which is actually a good thing, but….

I kept moving those tomatoes around here and there, trying to find space for the pork chops, but just couldn’t find any. Making frozen tomatoes into sauce Then it dawned on me.  Oh – I’m supposed to make those into sauce!  The holidays are over, the garden is asleep, it’s cold outside, so I have no better thing to do at this moment than make tomato sauce!

So, I pulled some bags out and put them on the kitchen counter to start thawing. When I took a few out of the bag, one rolled off the counter and fell to the floor but hit my knee on the wayHow to make tomato sauce from frozen tomatoes down. Ouch!  Heavens to Mergatroid those things are like small cannonballs!  I swear, they could be used as lethal weapons!  Holy cannoli, it left a serious bruise and I think it dented the floor!  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

I also remember in the blog I read that the tomatoes will “peel themselves” when they thawed.  Really?  Frozen Tomatoes to Tomato Sauce

Yup – pretty much!

As the tomatoes started to thaw, their skins began to crack and curl just a bit at the edges.  I pulled on the skin and it peeled right off! Wow – no more dipping in boiling water for me!

Once I had all the skins off, I just chopped them up and threw them in a large pot.  I didn’t bother taking seeds Canning Tomato Sauce out as it was pretty much impossible with the frozen tomatoes.  Even the thawed ones were hard to get seeds out because they pretty much collapsed over themselves.  That’s okay.  I don’t mind seeds.

I simmered the tomatoes for about 5 hours until the pulp was reduced to about half, so that the sauce would be nice and thick.  Also, just for a smoother sauce, I ran half of the pulp Make Frozen Tomatoes into Saucethrough the blender. I didn’t add anything else.  No basil.  No onions or garlic.  Just tomatoes.  I figured that it was “safer” that way because I was just going to water bath them in the canner.

However, when I was getting ready to put the sauce in the jars, I did go ahead and put in one teaspoon of salt and one tablespoon of lemon juice per pint – just to be safe.  These Tomato Sauce for canningtomatoes should be acidic enough because they are heirlooms, but I would rather err on the side of caution.

With the tomato sauce in the jars and lids screwed on just finger tight, I placed them into a boiling water bath for the recommended 40 minutes.  I ended up with 4 pint jars and about a cup extra, which I put in the fridge to use right away.  Now, if I want Canning tomato Sauce from Frozen Tomatoesspaghetti I can add the garlic, onions and basil to the sauce and I honestly think it will taste fresher that way. Or I can make it into pizza sauce – just add a few ingredients and there you go!

I did use two “regular” canning lids and two tattler lids and all four sealed.  I am going to wait for at least a month before I use the ones with the tattler lids to see how well they keep their Canned Tomatoes with Tattler Lidsseal, as I am still experimenting with them.  So far, so good!

This was such a convenient way to make the tomato sauce and I know this is how I am going to do it in the future – as long as I have freezer space!  I didn’t have to take time out of my busy day in the summer while I was gardening, working on the future homestead, remodeling my house, etc..  Instead, I was able to make the sauce in the winter when my life takes a bit of a slower pace!

And seriously, thawing tomatoes almost peel themselves!  🙂


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Drying Tomatoes

I have more tomatoes than I can handle right now! I planted two plants each of Pantano Romanesco, a big red beautiful heirloom, and Golden Sunray, also an heirloom. I got all of these seeds from Baker Creek Heriloom Seeds this past winter and I am very pleased!  Then I also have the volunteer tomato plant that my sister, Machell, gave me last spring.  I am not sure what it’s called, but it is a little bigger than a golf ball, red and really tasty!  I can’t can any tomatoes or juice or sauce right now because I don’t have any jars – yet.  I have been dragging my feet because every time I go to buy them I am shocked at the price!  But, buy them I must – next week.

In the meantime, I decided to dehydrate a batch, a la Mother Earth News Magazine (MEN). In this month’s MEN (August/September 2013) I found an article on an easy way to dry tomatoes (page 33), so I decided to try it before all of my tomatoes went to mush.  I hate mushy tomatoes!

An over-abundance of tomatoes

I quartered the tomatoes and placed them skin side down on parchment paper on a cookie sheet.  Easy enough.  I even took a little time to scrape some of the jelly out of the nooks and crannies, thinking that would help them dry faster.  In the article, MEN says to sprinkle with salt.  I did not.  I’m trying my best to stay away from as much salt as possible.   The article also says you can sprinkle with olive oil and/or fresh herbs.  I abandoned this idea also simply because I wanted to try the drying procedure first.  If it works out, I have a lot of basil and some great olive oil I will drizzle on the next batch.quartering tomatoes

Then I placed the tomatoes in the oven at 250 for one hour, just as the article says to. After that, I cooled the temperature down to 170 degrees – the coolest setting possible in my oven – and left the tomatoes there for 3 hours.  After 3 hours they weren’t dried to my satisfaction, so the next day I went ahead and placed them on cooling racks out in the sun for several hours.  Does that mean I can call my tomatoes “sun dried”?   😉    Anyway, that did the trick!  one batch of quartered tomatoes ready for the oven

Once the tomatoes were a bit leathery but still very pliable, I put them in a mason canning jar (one of the few that I DO have) and slipped that into the freezer. A jar of "sun dried tomatoes" for the freezer

Easy Peazy!  Now I have sundried tomatoes ready for chicken and bacon pizza, soup, salads, pasta, just about anything!  I am going to do this again, but next time I will try the olive oil and basil trick – maybe even some fresh oregano!

Now to find some inexpensive (is there such a thing?) canning jars to make some pasta sauce, tomato sauce and salsa!  I am also looking into buying some of those tattler jar lids that are reuseable.  They are also a bit on the pricey side, but when you consider that they can be used over and over again, I guess that compensates.

My last picture is of the tomato guard we have on duty in my tomato patch!  Isn’t she pretty.  From what I can gather, she is a Western Orb Spider.  She is pretty big and at first I was quite startled by her size.  Yes, she will bite and her bite can be painful, but I think I will just leave her as nature intended.  I only wonder, however, if she is eating my pollinators!spider on guard

Thanks for reading!  I sincerely appreciate any kind comment you would like to express!

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Garden Update – Good and Bad

It’s the middle of June and my garden has been in the ground for a couple of months now.

These tomatoes are growing so fast!  We had to fortify those flimsy tomato cages due to a nasty north wind, but everything looks a lot more stable now.

These tomatoes are growing so fast! We had to fortify those flimsy tomato cages due to a nasty north wind, but everything looks a lot more stable now.

We are having a north wind today, which has blown over a couple of my giant heirloom tomato plants!  I staked it up with a couple of dead branches we cut out of a tree, but the tomato plant is so top heavy it fell over again. Then I used twine to tie it to a couple of stakes, but that didn’t work well either.  Finally, Hubby Ray got home and was able to drive the stakes into the ground further, and along with some twine I think they are pretty stable for now.  It’s not pretty, but it will do.


Unfortunately, I think my squash plants are silently succumbing to the squash mosaic virus (see post here) because the plants aren’t producing squash like they used to, the leaves are all curly and frilly looking, and what squash that does grow is getting pretty gnarly looking.

The leaves of both the zucchini and yellow summer squash are looking really strange - frilly and curly - I assume due to the squash mosaic virus.

At this point, since it’s so early in the season, I’m thinking of pulling these out and getting a couple of new squash plants started.  I know they won’t produce until August, but I should get a couple of months of squash out of them anyway.  At least I think so. And maybe I will also start a cucumber plant.  I forgot to plant cucumbers this spring, but I think there is enough time to get some going. Besides, from what I hear out there in blogland, there are quite a few gardeners just now getting their vegetables planted.  Besides, there’s no harm in trying!

So that’s the bad  🙁    Now for the good!  🙂

The Black Turtle Beans are growing like crazy!  It was just an experiment to grow them this year, so see how much I will get at harvest time.  These are a dry bean and I’m hoping to get enough to make a few bowls of chili or soup!

It looks like I may get a pretty good harvest of black turtle beans!  I hope we get enough for a few bowls of soup.

The corn is all tasseled out and the cobs are forming quite well!

The cobs are filling out on the corn!  We will soon have heirloom sweet corn to eat!  Yum!

Everything I planted in the garden came from organic and heirloom seeds.  I wanted to make sure the corn was not GMO, as I hear it’s hard to find any nowadays that isn’t.  The corn that I planted is a sweet corn that should be good right off the cob.  I’m hoping to get enough to either can or freeze, but we really like to eat corn on the cob (as do a lot of our friends), so I’m not sure if there will be enough!

Take a look at the purple potato plant!

The purple potatoes have outgrown their grow bag many, many times over!  Is this normal????

This plant is absolutely humongous!  It is supposed to be this big?  The poor thing has spilled out of it’s grow bag and is starting to invade the melons!  However, it doesn’t look like the melons mind one bit.  There are quite a few starts of melons (cantaloupe type) growing and the vines are starting to grow this way and that.

The flowers are gorgeous and would make a beautiful bouquet, but I don’t have the heart to pick them.  They just look too pretty in the vegetable garden!

A beautiful pink gladiola.  I don't have the heart to cut it for inside the house because it looks so beautiful in the garden!

I will be harvesting the rest of the beets, carrots and lettuce this weekend, but I am not sure what I will put in their place.  Any suggestions?


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