Updates and On-Going, Post-Fire Cleanup

This one-of-a-kind oak on the ranch, one that had fallen and then regrew trees from limbs …
… now lays in pieces on the upper ranch pasture. It was bulldozed away by CalFire during the fire.
This is what it looked like on the upper pasture before the fire and bulldozers … see the magic oak in the center?
Here’s what it look like today. All gone.
This is some of the tangled mass of brush and trees after the bulldozers cut the fire break in September.
Here’s what it looks like now, still in clean-up mode. We have about four more areas like this to clean up. Clean-up involves cutting the firewood out of the brush, then burning the brush. We will probably try to get the big root balls and tree roots into drainage ditches to slow erosion.

We haven’t posted much in the last few weeks … we’ve been outside cutting wood, hauling and burning brush, and cleaning up after the fire mess. There is a lot more to do. We had hoped to be doing improvements and building more fence this year, but turns out it’s clean-up and repair, instead. We are fortunate that no structures burned because we can do this clean-up ourselves, on our own time. We were at a neighbor’s place yesterday where buildings burned, and they can’t touch it because of county rules and insurance issues, so it looks just like it did right after the fire – it’s like they are frozen in disaster-land and can’t do anything about it, can’t move on. This is true for all who lost homes and structures on Sept 8. We mentioned previously that utility power has been restored most places, but AT&T landline service is still down.

In other news, for those waiting to hear about whether or not Lucy is pregnant, we “think” she is! If she misses her cycle this week, that will help us feel more certain. She usually sniffs on the big goat and tries to ride him when she’s cycling. We haven’t observed that behavior in the two past cycles since the artificial insemination. This week would be the third cycle time since AI.

Oh yes, our beautiful Christmas tree is still up in the big room. We are waiting for a rainy day to take it down. It’s still drinking water, so it looks almost as fresh as when we put it up.

Rainfall has been low this year, and all of California is again in a drought. Periodic, light rainfall has been a short-term blessing for our burn-scarred area … we sure are hoping to continue receiving periodic, light-to-moderate rainfall through May. The chart below shows historic and current rainfall amounts, by year and month.

Let’s Start 2021 with a Steaming Pile of Shit …

but it is the good kind!

The goat/cow manure is decomposing the old gladiolus stalks.

This will make rich compost that we’ll put back onto the garden.

It will take several months, and we’ll turn it several times with the tractor.

Speaking of garden … not much there, but this little Napa cabbage is beautiful. Most made tight heads, but this one decided to risk being open to the new year!

Christmas Tree!

  • a beautifully lit and decorated Christmas tree with many colors in a home with a vaulted ceiling
  • a christmas tree full of lit lights in a home all the way to ceiling
  • A fresh, undecorated Christmas Tree in a house
  • a large pine tree sticking out of a Toyota Tacoma with two smiling men standing by the tree

The United States Forest Service sells permits to cut Christmas trees (limit 2) for individuals. With a permit and proper maps that define allowable cutting areas, we set out this year, as in years past.

However, unlike years past, the first 20 miles were no longer colorful, with golden yellow big-leaf maples mixed in with thick, dark, damp, green, fir forests. The complete and utter devastation from the September 8 fire is hard to comprehend without seeing, so we are sharing a short video on this post … what you see in the video goes on and on. It’s heartbreaking. All the areas that had supplied those wonderful trees for our home for the past 16 years burned up (video below).

Because the year continues to be dry, there was no snow blocking our journey up to and over Grizzly Summit (close to 6,000 feet). Once we got over the summit, we got past the burned area and eventually got to an area where tree cutting was allowed with permit. There was no one there. It was beautiful, and quiet, and a precious beauty compared to what we had just past through.

The area around Grizzly Summit, near Buck’s Lake, about 26 miles up the road from our house.
The road to Grizzly Summit, almost 20 miles, now looks like this

Goat Names and Weights

… along with their de-worming dosage

The goats are generally very healthy, but every six months or so, they should be treated for worms. Parasites in goat intestines can be very harmful to goats. If they are too bad, the goats will not be able to make important B-vitamins, and wind up with goat polio and die within a few days after symptoms. We almost had that happen with Maggie and so we watch this very closely, now. No, it’s not an ‘organic’ treatment, and we don’t give it to Daisy because we still consume her milk. The drug is Ivermectin. Ivermectin is also in the heart-worm medication most people give their dogs.

As you may recall, due to the fire, we had to quickly reduce our goat herd because we lost water for the pasture. Those named above got to stay. Some of them are hefty! Good thing they are relatively tame because we have to put the syringe (without needles) into their mouth and deliver the medication orally. Boy Story loves it. The others just tolerate it. BG likes it least of all.

Pomegranate Feta Friday

… no black Friday shopping here, it was all about “making”.

Among other things, David made feta cheese rounds from Daisy’s (goat) milk. I squeezed pomegranate seeds for juice.

  • five containers of white feta cheese
  • two bowls full of light-pink pomegranate seeds
  • A jar and a pitcher full of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice

When David milks Daisy each morning, she gives him a quart of milk. We refrigerate it until we get several gallons. The five, cheese rounds pictured above came from three gallons of goat’s milk.

The pomegranates come from a grove of trees that mom and dad Lusk helped us plant over 10 years ago, plus one other tree in the orchard. We have several varieties (listed in last year’s post), some are lighter and sweeter, some are darker and more astringent. Together, they make great-tasting, raw juice that doesn’t need sugar.

The feta cheese will need to brine (in refrigeration) for a couple months, and then it’s ready. We used to buy a lot of feta. Now it all comes from Daisy. Love that Alpine goat!

The pomegranate juice that we don’t immediately drink gets frozen for later use. It was a poor crop year for apples and pomegranates … late, hard frost.

Oh, and there are byproducts with cheesemaking — ricotta cheese and whey. David got five cups of ricotta after making the feta. The last byproduct, whey, we pour onto kale and cabbage in the garden.

In case you’ve forgotten which one is Daisy, here she is, the one with the beard!

Side view of a gray, black and white Alpine goat
Daisy when she was pregnant


… an excellent, helpful thing that happened this year!

  • The side of a Tesla battery -- white with gray letters that say "Tesla"
  • a screen shot of the Tesla app on a smartphone
  • a screen shot of the Tesla app on a smartphone

California’s Public Utility Commission and the State of California recognize the additional risk that rural communities and rural homeowners have if the power company (PG&E here in Northern CA) shuts power off during fire risk (windy/dry) events. Our little community of Berry Creek saw first-hand how devastating a power outage is when a disaster is bearing down. No way to get evacuation notices or pump water.

Recognizing that, this year, through the self-generation-incentive-program, (SGIP) there was an incentive that covered the cost (after federal tax credits) to install batteries for rural homeowners who have solar power and rely on a well for domestic water. This was an amazing program in 2020 and we were among the first to sign up when this SGIP incentive became available. There is now a wait-list for this program. Here’s more about eligibility requirements for battery rebates: https://www.cpuc.ca.gov/uploadedFiles/CPUCWebsite/Content/News_Room/NewsUpdates/2020/Residential%20Equity%20and%20Equity%20Resiliency%20Matrix.pdf.

Any Californian who meets the above requirements should reach out to a reputable solar installer for assistance with the (complex) process. Our installer is California Solar Electric in Grass Valley, CA. They made the process as easy as possible at reasonable cost.

For us, batteries are a huge upgrade to one of our solar arrays because in California, most solar systems are “grid-tied”, which means the solar system is directly connected to the public utility energy grid. There are no batteries on these systems, so when utility power goes down, solar panels on the roof are useless. There’s nowhere for the power to go, so generation shuts down. Without the grid, without batteries, those expensive solar panels are no better than an old shingle.

Batteries change this equation. With batteries, the solar panels can continue to produce when public utility power is gone … essentially making us “off-grid” instead of “grid-tied”. But the public utility also benefits from homeowner battery systems like the Tesla Powerwall because the utility can shift loads during peak demand so that homes with batteries use battery power instead of grid power, so grid power is more available for everyone else. Of course, one home with batteries isn’t much, but many are. That’s why the incentive was widely available and expected to result in millions of new battery installations (as well as to push prices down over time by creating a stronger market demand for newer battery technologies).

The really cool, helpful thing about this (besides getting expensive batteries discounted) was that the install happened after the Sept. 8 fire, when PG&E (utility) power was down. We were able to operate our well with our solar power, so we had water, without having to run and fuel a generator, for the two months it took to get utility power back.

The batteries are quiet. They just sit there. The app on our Android devices tells us what’s happening. Really cool stuff and we are so happy to have these — and wish we could have some for the main house, too. The batteries are not on our main house solar arrays because our existing water well pump for the two ranch houses is on a different meter/service than the main and small houses, and the requirement we met to qualify for the incentive was that we had a well instead of public utility water. So, the batteries went on the service and solar array that run the well, and not the house. The batteries are still very expensive and not affordable for us without the SGIP incentive. That means we still get stuck with running a generator for the main house when the power goes out. But at least we don’t have to run two generators now and it’s a great relief to no longer worry about getting water to both houses during outages.

Based on our experience, so far, we could run the well for four days in complete darkness before the batteries would run out and we’d have to shift to generator for the well. Fortunately, (at least so far in 2020) there is usually some daylight in the daytime, and the solar panels will recharge the batteries with any power they make.

The Bird(s) That Got Away

… this time

This is the first time in 15 years we haven’t had a giant (30-40lb) turkey for friends and family to feast on. We have the birds, but everyone knows why friends and family are bunkered down, this year.

We only have 10 turkeys this year, they arrived later in the year and so were not ready for this holiday. Christmas will be a different story. I didn’t tell them.

Here they are, celebrating Thankgsiving!

Olives, Electronics Graveyard and a Rigged Furnace

Yesterday, we picked 5 gallons of olives at a friend’s farm. We process these olives and can them. There is a previous post about that here: Olives. Pictures from yesterday are in the slideshow, below. This year’s olive crop was poor, so we are happy to have what we have.

Many of you read the “Eleven Steps Back” post … we are accumulating the dead electronics in a refrigerator that was killed by a power surge related to the fire. Need to get the whole-house fan motor out of the attic and into that collection. Electronics graveyard is also pictured in the slideshow below. All this stuff is considered toxic and will have to be taken to a special place at a special time so we can get rid of it.

Lastly, part of the “Eleven Steps Back” post was that the furnace transformer got fried. We have now determined that the relay switch also fried. That relay controlled a valve that let hot water into the house (we have radiant baseboard heat via hot water). With that relay broken, heat is either always ON, or always OFF. Neither option works in the winter. So, I rigged a handy-dandy, manual thermostat control (light switch). The slideshow has an annotated picture of that for you too, below. (Note, the transformer has already been replaced as it fried first). Yes, eventually we’ll remove that switch and get all the wires stuffed back into the nice little green box.