… 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.
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!
… an excellent, helpful thing that happened this year!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Temperatures down in the low 20s before the rain a week ago killed all the remaining things in the garden except the kale, chard, fennel, Napa cabbage and broccolini.
We are still eating melon! The Asian melon, a type of honeydew, but white and very sweet, turned out to be incredibly productive and durable. They produced up until frost, even with very little water, and keep well in refrigeration.
We no longer have to haul water and the creek has natural flow again.
We still have no telephone service and no ETA on that.
The PG&E rodeo continues. Central office wrote our accounts off as destroyed, and the various PG&E departments do not talk to each other, work over and past each other, and are totally confused. They terminated our solar net metering programs and totally hosed the last step approvals for our new solar array with Tesla batteries (which have been running our well ever since the fire, without being connected to the grid). Try sorting all this out without reliable phone service, a few hours of hold at a time standing on a hill praying cell call isn’t dropped …
David and I did a little more work on the destroyed aqueduct, checking to make sure culverts were clear of debris, creating and opening clean-outs (places for water to escape the ditch without destroying it), and taking photos of improper or unmaintained road drainages which are the (neglected) responsibility of Butte County Public Works.
Lucy’s AI procedure was completed Monday evening. In 20 days, we should know if we have a pregnant heifer. Sure hope so. It will only get harder for her to conceive as she gets older and heavier.
We were able to put the goats (and heifer) into new brush (they were getting really edgy and unhappy about the lack of food after we lost pasture irrigation). Nothing spectacularly funny about it, but below is a video of them in their new foodland. This was an area of heavy brush that would have burned up to us if we hadn’t stopped the fire as it was entering there.
Also below, a video of clouds moving past at sunset one evening after the rain. Just beautiful.
A couple days ago, an electrician was here to disconnect the big, diesel generator that was running our main house at our meter. Then he proceeded to connect us to line (utility) power which was just restored since the fire Sept. 8. He had had a long day, it was late, it was dark, and he was tired.
He should have gone home and come back the next day. That’s all hindsight.
He forgot to connect a critical, neutral wire (there are three, big, fat wires that come from the power pole transformer into the house at the meter, one is the neutral, the other two are highly juiced). So when we turned the main breaker back on for the house, all hell broke loose. Lights flickered. Things fried. We turned the breaker off, the electrician looked at his work again, and tightened a bolt. Then we tried again. Even more frying and flickering. We turned the breaker off again. The electrician checked his work -and noticed the neutral had been disconnected from our meter service because when the generator was powering, it had it’s own neutral. Doh! Embarrassing, rookie mistake for a well-regarded electrician. A very costly one, it’s turning out, for him and for us.
When we reflect back on the sequence of events, the first time we flipped the main breaker, the whole-house surge protector protected the house, but was fried in the process. Then, when we turned the main breaker on the second time, there was no whole-house protection and the current collided with neutral in the closest wires it could find. Some of them were surge protected with typical household surge protectors, and some were not. Here’s the list of what was fried (that we know of, so far):
Propane furnace the heats the house
Wood-fired boiler that heats the house instead of the propane furnace
The gate the opens at the driveway
The home alarm system
The whole-house fan
The range hood
Whole house surge protector
Computer electronics surge protectors (2)
Portable air conditioner
Backup battery for gate opener
Backup battery for home alarm system
These things that fried all had transformers or specialized power supplies. Some of these things were on and working. Some were merely plugged in but not on. But the odd thing is that not all surge protectors fried, and the appliances seem to have survived (long-term issues, who knows). What fried and what didn’t really makes no sense.
Electricity has mysterious ways.
Anyway, the eleven steps back are the items in that list that need to be fixed. So far the hours cost is 8 hours (tracking down failed components, testing them, and looking for replacement parts, some for obsolete items). This does not count the time yet needed to put it all back in working order. The dollar cost for all these things is approaching $2000. The electrician said he would take care of the cost, but I don’t think he had any idea how much it would be. He hasn’t seen the bill yet. He did fix the furnace and offered to do more of the labor, but with some things, it makes no sense to have him do the labor because the risk of him breaking more things because he’s unfamiliar with them is greater than us spending the hours to do it ourselves.
I think somewhere in one of the posts about the fire I mentioned how there are all these secondary or follow-on events after a big disaster. They just keep coming and eating away at any effort to get back to some sort of equilibrium. It’s like someone snapped a spring and it is still wildly flailing about causing more hell to break loose.
… these days, we have to divide to conquer around here …
One of us takes a chore near the house to be ever-present in order to deal with water deliveries, generator service people, PG&E utility people, etc. The other one takes the goats up the hill to ensure they are safe. You get to decide which might be the more “fun” assignment.
Goat-sitting or cleaning ash residue from solar panels?
Note: the goat-sitter usually takes on additional chores while tending the herd — stacking firewood, pulling honeysuckle vines down from trees (for the goats to eat and to reduce fire ladders on trees), etc. So, it is not all fun. Plus it’s very dusty and ashy.
The lack of rain is a dam in the stream of projects, as well as cause for the swelling reservoir.
The fire necessitated a new, long, list of projects. This swelled the project reservoir. Some are projects on this ranch. Some are projects on the Berry Creek Water Users aqueduct system.
Projects on our ranch created by the fire:
wash ash and dust from solar panels, porches, buildings, roofs and gutters
grade (smoothen) pastures uprooted by CalFire bulldozers
burn brush from trees uprooted by CalFire bulldozers
plant new grass seed in uprooted pastures
clear culverts in key drainage waterways that were covered by bulldozers
install additional 12,000-gallon reserve water tank for fire suppression (tank pictured below)
drill an emergency/backup well
These projects cannot start until/if it rains more than ½ inch. Attempting them now would be defeated by powdery, blowing ash and dust. In some of the bulldozed places where we walk, the dirt is just powder 6” deep from PG&E and CalFire trucks traveling over it all since 9/8/2020. When we have wind events like this weekend, piles of ash and dust accumulate over porches, sidewalks, and building surfaces.
Projects on the aqueduct created by the fire:
remove dead trees and debris from 3 miles of earthen ditch
rebuild 700’ of trestle and pipe that carried water on steep hillsides and across ravines
create clean-outs at numerous places in ditch (ways for heavy rainfall to exit the ditch safely)
Then there are our ranch projects on hold because it has to rain to end this year’s fire season:
move emergency evacuation horse trailer from standby location and cover for winter storage
move hay from barn at risk of flooding to stable (we keep hay out of the stable during fire season)
erect temporary shelter for items we must remove from the barn (can’t build burnable shelters until fire season is over), including hay, F250, irrigation supplies and a lot more
Move stacked firewood next to the house (don’t dare do this during fire season)
This is a partial list and almost all of these will be triggered when first rain breaks the dam. Too much rain and we’ll have an additional list.
To be clear, most of these projects on the ranch can’t be done until it rains, and then they have to happen all at once before the rainy season sets in. The lack of rain has all this work on hold. So, we watch the list get bigger, unable to do much about it. We do have some local friends standing by, ready to help – we just don’t know when.
The tank pictured below is related to project number six (6) above. By staying to fight the fire and losing access to abundant water 24/7, we learned that it takes thousands of gallons of water to forestall or fight fire. The ranch has two, small, plastic storage tanks that hold a total of 3,500 gallons. That would last about 10 minutes coming out of a 1 ½ “ firehose at 100 psi. Plus, plastic doesn’t do well in fire. For a while now, we have been trying to find a large, steel railcar or storage tank to increase our water storage for emergency use. David finally found one, on Craigslist of course! It was previously a fresh water tank for cattle on a dairy in California’s Sacramento Valley. It was about 2 ½ hours from here, so it required tractor trailer transport. Since it had to go to the top of our property (we use gravity to pressurize the water at the house level to 100 psi), the tractor trailer had to go up a steep, dusty, bumpy road. The tractor trailer made it about 12’ of the ¼ mile he had to go, uphill, before he spun out. Fortunately, our neighbor was available with a machine large enough to pull the tractor trailer up the hill. It was touch and go all the way up.
Of course, this tank is very, very heavy. How heavy, we have no idea. But the only way to get it off the flatbed trailer was to “roll” it off. The driver backed the trailer up next to a tree close to where the tank will be placed, and Bob pushed it off the trailer … it bounced onto the ground, upside down. So, there’s that new project – prepare a stable bed of rock for the new tank, and “roll” it into its new position, and plumb it in to the existing system. How will we fill it? Well, we could manually fill it with trucked water, or we could wait for just the right amount of rain to make water available that we could pump. We’ll see. Have to get it in place, first.