Rainwater Harvesting System, round 2, and why Bushman sucks

In April, I wrote about my BlueBarrel rainwater harvesting system that captured water off my hen house. If you aren’t familiar with rainwater harvesting and and want to learn more, make sure to read! Now, as mentioned in my last post, I’ve added a system off the house: a 2,825 gallon Bushman tank. It’s been a project spread over several months and full of so much drama.

rain tank

This rain catchment monster is made of polyethylene, and is 8’6″ wide, and 7’8″ high. It lives off the North East corner of the house, tucked into the area previously known as the “jungle”- which was an overgrown mass of quince, bottlebrush, wisteria, privet, rose, grape and of course, blackberry. We cleaned an area up of about 10 feet for it to sit, and created a 6″ pad of crushed gravel held by a steel ring that is staked in the ground. We tucked the tank behind the branches of the Callary pear and a large bush to slightly hide it.

I wanted to go with a Bushman tank because they are the most affordable per gallon for large capacity, and come ready for rainwater harvesting with a screened top inlet hole, and both an overflow hole and a faucet hole on the side. Most tanks lack an overflow hole so you have to drill one yourself, and then figure out how to screen the top inlet. They are also relatively light and easy to move, making it so you can DIY instead of having to have a crane or a crazy crew lift and install. For the past few years, I’ve trolled their website, talked with the rep at events and priced out tanks though a variety of suppliers, but getting one wasn’t in the budget and it hasn’t been a priority.

In late summer, we started building the fence that connects to the house, and then realized we wouldn’t be able to finish it because it needed the side yard to be open so, whenever we got one, we could roll the tank to the back yard. So, on a rather impulse purchase, we bought one from Home Depot that was in stock and it was delivered the next day. It came on a giant flatbed truck, and the worker simply lifted it off the bed with a forklift and drove it into the driveway. In an ideal world, he would have taken it all the way to the final location, but they can’t go into yards because of liability and crap with The Man. However, the guy took pity on me and helped tip it over and roll it further into the front yard.

tank deliverytank in the front yard

From there, Matt and I rolled the tank along side the house, past the half-way built fence and between the fig tree to the back yard, where it sat for a month or so while we built the pad. Moving it to the back was surprisingly easy considering how giant the thing is. It rolled right over chunks of concrete that were still hanging out from the patio demolition with no problem.

kitty hiding spot

Disclaimer: Beginning of Rant 

This is when the issues started, and I found out that Bushman as a company totally sucks. When we bought the tank, the word “rainwater tank” was always used, so when we got it into the back yard and I unscrewed the top port, I was surprised to find out there was no screen. I emailed the company, asking why I didn’t get a screen. It took 3 emails with a not-helpful women to find out that I bought a WATER tank, not a RAIN water tank. Apparently, Bushman carries two lines of tanks, that look exactly the same. I had no idea.

I returned to their website and found out that there was, in fact, two different tanks. Oh well, that just meant I needed to BUY the inlet screen. So I had one ordered though Harmony, only to find out that it was too small. The hole on my tank was a good 6″ larger than the screen that comes with the Rainwater tanks. More website analyzing was done. All measurements listed for my tank were the same as the rain tank, meaning the screen should have fit. After more phone calls and unhelpful customer service people, I found out that they changed the design of the water tanks to a larger hole, but NEVER CHANGED THE SPECS ON THE WEBSITE. They are aware the website is wrong. They basically told me they don’t care.

So now, I had no inlet screen to protect my water from bugs and debris, and there are none manufactured to fit my tank. You have to have a screen on any opening, so I was left with a janky DIY version of screwing the screen inside the lid. Lame and frustrating, but it worked. BUT THEN, the final straw before I started raising some hell, was when I went to screw my janky lid back on, it wouldn’t align with the hole and the threads because the roof of the tank had started to collapse.

I wrote a very angry email to Bushman, and got the regional rep to come out. He told me that about 3% of the tanks come off the line with this defect. Once again, basically the company doesn’t care, because it’s cheaper for them to have that small percentage fail than to fix the molds. Fuck Bushman Company. However, the regional rep was helpful and concocted a ( also janky) solution of bracing it from the inside so that the roof was no longer collapsing and the lid screwed back in. But despite my argument that I was sold a mislabeled and defective product and that was falsely advertised, the company had no interest in refunding me at least part of the purchase price.

So basically, only use a tank from Bushman unless its your very last option or want to get screwed over.

Announcement: End of Rant

When clearing the vegetation from the area, I didn’t want to cut back an ancient grape vine we uncovered, so very very carefully I untwined it from the tree canopy and the bushes and moved it out of the way. A grape vine loaded with grapes is very, very heavy, in case you were wondering. Once the tank was in place, I used T-stakes and concrete mesh panels to create a trellis curving around the tank, and then very very carefully moved the grape back and tied it up along the trellis.

grape trellisAbout half our house’s roof is feeding this tank from one gutter and one downspout, which is about 450 square feet. We will need a little over 10 inches of rain to fill the tank, which is no problem in a “normal” winter in Northern California, but with the drought, we might not reach that. The tank is also close enough to connect the downspout from the garage the house, but we will need some more piping, and I wanted to see how this winter goes before spending more money on plastic.

The tank itself was $1,249. With tax and delivery, we spent $1,445, then plus probably another $400 or so on the piping to connect it to the gutter, the overflow piping, the first flush diverter off the roof, the metal ring, and the base rock. After factoring in the $706 we got back from the City of Santa Rosa’s rebate program, this storage system cost about .40/gallon of storage capacity. This tank now puts me at 3,675 total gallons of rain water storage capacity!


Bring on the rain!

Homestead Happenings

Well hello there, it’s been a while! I figured it was time for an update. If you’re still following along, thanks so much!

The garden saw its decline in August. 90% of my tomatoes got blossom end rot, despite amended my soil with macro and micronutrients prior to planting and supplemented with lime waterings. I’m guessing the cause wasn’t lack of calcium, but from inconsistent watering. I got discouraged and gave up, stopped watering and let things go fallow early. I did, however, get plentiful amounts of Principe Borghese tomatoes, which yielded about 3 gallons worth once dried. I think that until I can get drip set up, I’m not going to bother planting any more of the big heirlooms or saucing tomatoes, its just not worth it.

bacon and cleanup

Right now, the garden is slowly becoming flush with the winter crops. In the beginning of September, I seeded out the roots and leaves bed: carrots, kale, lettuce, parsnips, beets, radishes, and arugula. I also planted starts of cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, and underplanted with parsley and nasturtiums. I plan to get garlic and peas in this afternoon, even though its a bit late in the season, and need to reseed spinach and chard that got munched by the damn rollie-pollies and slugs. I planted one bed with cover crop, to revitalize the soil after holding 4 rotations of crops. Already I’ve spotted some ladybugs, whom I’m hoping will overwinter and be ready to clear off aphids in the spring.radisheslettuce and kalemixed brassica bedcover crop and ladybug

Since my tomatoes failed, I was able to barter for enough tomatoes to bother canning, and was able to put up several jars of crushed. Most of August and September was spent canning up jams and salsas, in addition to dehydrating figs and bartered apples. We had a ginormous crop of figs this year, enough for me to make a ton of fig spreads, sell some, and have lots and lots to barter and give away. We also got grapes off the ancient and neglected vines that we unearthed while building the fence, which I juiced and froze. A few weeks ago we bottled 5 gallons of Santa Rosa plum wine that we started back in June.

summer countersapplesfigsgrapesplum wine

I called canning season over at the beginning of October, leaving me with the following inventory (excluding what was leftover from last year):

  • 7 pints pear juice
  • 17 pints crushed tomatoes
  • 7 half-pints spicy tomato jam/ketchup
  • 3 pints & 6 half-pints roasted salsa
  • 8 half-pints salsa verde
  • 8 half-pints peach cilantro salsa
  • 6 4-oz cinnamon orange fig spread
  • 7 half-pints & 1 4oz fig port spread
  • 8 half-pints & 3 4oz balsamic pepper fig spread
  • 9 half-pints pear vanilla jam
  • 7 half-pints plum jam
  • 7 half-pints mixed stone fruit “neighborhood jam”- apricot, plum, and peach
  • 5 half-pints apricot nectarine jam
  • 4 half-pints blackberry jelly

cooking fig jamtomatoes

pantry And the big project for the summer? Getting the 2,825 gallon rain tank installed. I’ll be writing more about it soon, so check back! rain tank

Newest Chapter in the Book of Life

With great excitement, today is the first day in a new adventure in my life. I’m headed back to school full-time!

back to school

I am attending the Santa Rosa JC to earn certificates in garden design and landscape management, with the goal of becoming a landscape designer. In theory it should take about a year, but I’ll likely go longer because I’m interested in so many classes. I plan on also becoming certified in permaculture next summer though OAEC. Once I have my design certificate, my goal is to start my own design business focusing on permaculture based homestead gardens and native and wildlife friendly gardens. I will not install lawns.

For the first time in a long time, I am very optimistic about my future. I have had lots of business ideas, but never knew how to achieve them or where to go next. For the past 5 years or so, I have been really floundering on what my path is, and I’m feeling very excited and committed to this goal I’ve set down.

I’ve had a variety of career goals throughout my short life. When I was very little, I wanted to be a mermaid. Clearly, that didn’t pan out so I then wanted to be librarian, the a fashion designer, then a journalist, an interior designer, a park ranger, and a geologist. Finally, sometime in mid-high school, I set my heart on becoming a naturalist, and completed college with that goal. I got a BA from UCSC in Environmental Studies, with focuses in both environmental interpretation and restoration ecology, and minor in Earth Sciences.

UCSC graduation, 2006
UCSC graduation, 2006

Immediately after graduating, I took an internship as a naturalist at an outdoor school in San Luis Obispo. I loved it. I spent my days outside teaching kids about nature. Once that was finished, I thought I wanted to be a teacher, so I moved to Tahoe and worked as a teacher’s aid. That only lasted a few months before I realized I hated being inside all day and the bureaucracy of the school system and lack-of creativity present in classrooms when lessons were dictated by standardized testing. When I moved to Sonoma County, I worked again as a naturalist, which I loved, but I couldn’t pay the bills and didn’t want to have the nomadic lifestyle that being an outdoor school teacher required.

squid dissection
on “hill hike”, teaching about different ecosystems and geology

Since then, I tried many things. I worked for a large corporation doing outreach and education on recycling programs. I worked with local government and created an implementation program regarding the mandatory commercial recycling ordinance. I did event coordination for a non-profit focused on local economy. I learned about herbs and alternative medicine while working at an acupuncture clinic. I’ve been a substitute teacher, done retail, counter help, food service, and managed a restaurant. I tried being a stay-at-home wife but was unhappy, and wanted to BE something and contribute to the larger population.

Last year, knowing that I needed direction and help, I started seeing a career counselor/life coach. She helped me determine that in order to be happy and satisfied with my work, there were 5 qualities that needed to be met: active in nature, new experiences, play/creativity, communication/sharing info, and protection/care. We brainstormed lots of different career jobs and felt that landscape designing would be a great fit. I also see this as a great opportunity to spread the homesteading and sustainable living gospel. If I can get even one person to grow their own food, or convert a lawn into a bee friendly garden, I’ll consider that I’ve made a difference in the world.


I’ve always liked designing things. As a kid, I’d put together my own fashion catalogues- hands sketches of outfits on folded stapled pieces of paper. I’d do mockups of rooms from magazine cut-outs. I’ve also always liked plants. As a teenager, I pretended I didn’t care much as my mom drug me around nurseries and garden tours, but really I enjoyed seeing how people created outdoor spaces and the variety and uniqueness of each plant. I loved helping working in the garden ever since I was a little kid. Why I didn’t consider garden design earlier is really quite surprising. Perhaps I didn’t realize it was actually a thing that people hired other people to help them with, I just assumed it came naturally to everyone.

helping in the garden, circa 1999
helping in the garden, circa 1999
tomato harvest, circa 2001. A big accomplishment considering foggy Aptos weather.
tomato harvest, circa 2001. A big accomplishment considering foggy Aptos weather.

Now that you know what I’m doing, it is likely that these semi-regular postings will become much less regular, as I’m in class 5 days a week. I’m taking a drafting class, intro to art and design, horticultural science, pruning, and a botany based class. Somehow I’ll need to fit in all the normal cooking, cleaning, garden-upkeep and homestead building, in addition to class and studying. Feel free to follow me on instagram to keep up with my adventures, and best wishes until next time!

What To Do in the Garden: August

Wow, are we really almost finished with the first week of August?! This summer really has seemed to have flown by. Things in my garden have started to reach the chaos phase- tomatoes branches sprawled  with far reach, vines no longer contained to their designated trellises, and top heavy sunflowers bent and fallen all over the place. Kitchen counters are in full mid-summer mode, and covered daily with ripening pears, tomatoes, cucumbers and of course, squash.

midsummer counters

Despite the heat, we are slowly creeping into the Autumn season, and in addition to dealing with summer’s bounty, it is time to start thinking about the fall and winter gardens.

Northern California Gardening Checklist: August

  • Start fall veggies. Direct seed carrots, onions, peas and radishes. Start broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, lettuce, kale and spinach seeds inside. Next month is also a fine time to plant, even into October, so if you don’t have space yet or just don’t have time, don’t worry.fall planting
  • Prune hydrangeas. Prune back right after blooming. Cut stems that have bloomed back to 12 inches. Most varieties produce flowers on previous year’s growth, so when pruning for shape and to control size, avoid cutting cutting off buds.
  • Harvest, harvest harvest. If you can’t eat it all fresh, preserve for the winter by dehydrating, pickling, fermenting, canning or freezing. Offer to friends, set out on the curb with a free sign, donate to the food pantry, or leave on your neighbor’s doorstep.

tomato drop-by

  • Water. Despite it being warmer than ever, it may be possible to water less. Now that most plants have set fruit, they don’t need as much as previous when putting on growth. If you have harvested all that you will off a particular plant, stop water completely. Maintain constant moisture on tomatoes to prevent blossom-end rot. If you do start new seeds, make sure to keep moist, and try keeping a shade cloth over the area to prevent moisture loss.
  • Maintain flowers. Make sure to bring some blooms inside so you can appreciate them. Deadhead fading flowers to keep in bloom longer, or leave dead blooms standing for the birds. Summer is a busy time in the garden, with a frenzy of birds consuming seeds from my spent bachelor buttons, sunflowers, cosmos and zinnias. I love to watch tiny finches perch on swaying stalks to nom down on tiny seeds. If you don’t want to leave dead or drooping flowers standing in the garden, pick the seed heads off and dry, then set in on a platform bird feeder. sunflower for the birds
  • Plan ahead for fruit. If you want to plant fruit trees in the winter, but not sure what time, now is the time to start planning ahead. Sample varieties at the local farm stands and farmers markets to find which types you like best.
  • Control fire-blight. Its a bad year for fire-blight, especially in pears. This bacterial disease affects new growth on apples, pears, quince and pyracantha, leaving it dead and blackened. Prune affected branches 8-12 inches below the infected area, dipping pruners in a bleach solution after every cut.


  • Prune berries. As soon as they have finished fruiting, cut berry canes that bore fruit off at the base. Tie new canes to a trellis.
  • Learn. Attend the Farm to Fermentation Festival on August 22 at Finley. This is an awesome event loaded with speakers, workshops and vendors. Make sure to get VIP ticket so you can taste all the local fermented adult beverages. You can read more about my experience last year here. The San Francisco Dahlia Society’s annual free exhibition at the Hall of Flowers is on August 15 & 16.

How’s your August going? Are you loving summer or ready for it to be fall?

What to do in the Garden in August

Eat your Zucchini!

There are about a billion blog posts about ways to use up zucchini, and I’m writing another. Why? Because I think it’s time to celebrate the often misunderstood zucchini! Sure, we all get inundated with squash, because the plants are so plentiful. Yes, they get a horrible rap because when they don’t get harvested they turn into baseball bats that are NOT good, and their only use is to feed the chickens or turn into zucchini cars for festival races. But that’s not the zucchini’s fault, its the gardener’s, for not harvesting at a decent size.


I think that zucchini, along with other summer squash, is one of the most versatile of vegetables. What other vegetable can be eaten both in fruit and flower form, and eaten raw, sauteed, roasted, as soup, baked both savory and sweet, pickled, fried, AND grilled? Really, we should be writing odes to zucchini, instead of lamenting of how much we have and how sick of it we are!

grow squash grow



But I get it. After producing steadily from May until first frost, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Here are an assortment of ways to use up this super versatile veggie. I haven’t had a chance to make all of them yet, but we are only halfway through squash season!




  • Zucchini Butter (perfect on toasted bread with ricotta, topped with basil)
  • Zucchini Gnocchi (ok, technically boiled…)
  • Sauteed, alone or with a variety of veggies, like this one. Mix with pasta for an easy meal.



Baked, Savory:

Baked, Sweet:


Smitten Kitchen's Herbed Summer Squash Bake
Smitten Kitchen’s Herbed Summer Squash Bake

Zucchini is a veggie that doesn’t need precision. It lends itself well to meals that are just thrown together. It pairs particularly well with: herbs (basil, parsley, marjoram &, thyme), cheese (such as feta, parmesan, & ricotta), other veggies (including corn, potatoes, eggplant, onions, tomatoes & peppers) garlic, lemon, olive oil, onions, salt, and vinegars (balsamic, red wine, sherry, white wine and champagne).

What’s your favorite way to use zucchini? 

the many ways to use zucchini

Canning Season is Here!

Canning season has officially opened! Within the past few weeks, I’ve put up jars of mixed stone fruit jam, plum jam, salsa verde, and peach salsa.  I’ve got zucchini pickles slated for this afternoon’s project. Soon the pears will be coming in, and I’ll be doing big batches of my pear vanilla jam. Then, there will be tomatoes in all forms, followed by a crap-load of figs.

Canning season is officially open

Last year, I canned my way though a kitchen remodel, and still managed to put up quite a bit. You don’t need a fancy set-up to preserve, but weather you are an experienced canner or just starting out, there are always helpful things do before getting started. Here are some of my helpful tips for preparing for canning season and to make sure your preserving projects go smoothly.

preserving chaos
in my kitchen, preserving is always chaos.

Helpful Tips for Canning Season

Invest in a billion dish and tea-towels. Make sure they are clean. Towels are my most used canning accessories. I use them hold hot jars while I screw on rings. I wipe edges of jar rims. I clean up the constant jam splatters on the wall. I go through a piles of them.  Don’t start a canning day without making sure your towels are washed, dry and handy.


Stock up on jars and lids. Buy more than you think you’ll need. Then add another case. Throw in 3 more boxes of lids. Nothing ruins the flow of canning day by having to go to the store to buy more jars or lids. If you are in Sonoma County, Friedman’s has the lowest prices. Wide mouth quarts: $13.49, regular mouth quarts: $12.49. Wide mouth pints: $12.49, regular mouth pints: $10.99. 8 oz jelly jar: $11.49. However, Ace in Healdsburg and Sebastopol have excellent sales, so keep your eye out.

canning jars for sale

Stock up on sugar, vinegar, pectin and lemon juice. Again, nothing ruins the flow by having to run to the store. Depending on what you can, make sure your pantry is full of vinegar for pickles, sugar and pectin for jam, and bottled lemon juice for pretty much everything.

Make sure you pull out rings prior to filling jars. More than once, I’ve had my jars filled and then realize I didn’t pull out my rings. Nothing causes me more anxiety than having to fish the right sized rings out of the jumbled mess in the pantry while my pot is at a rolling boil and I’ve got sauce sitting on the counter. Depending on your husband to gather them up while you are ladling out the sauce isn’t a fool-proof plan.

ring and lid mess

Clean before and immediately after. The second thing that causes me anxiety in the kitchen is not having counter or sink space. Before you start cooking down fruit or chopping up tomatoes, do all the dishes, put them away, and clear off the counters so you have a wide workspace. When you’re finished, wash your pans and utensils immediately so you don’t have to struggle with a dried sticky mess. If you’re a disaster like I am, also wipe off the walls and your stove backsplash, preferably as you cook. Old tomato seeds and jam splatters are infinitely more difficult to get off than if they are new.

jam mess

Have simple snacks available. If you are spending a full day over a hot stove, the last thing you want to do is think about making a meal. Sometimes, if you are having to stir constantly, you just don’t have time to prep something, let alone sit down and eat. So I like to keep super simple, filling snacks that I can eat with one hand. Sliced deli cheese and meats are a good one, I can just pull it out of the fridge and do a quick roll-up and eat as is.

Wear an apron. Because aprons are awesome.


August 1st is International Can-It-Forward Day. There are webinars, tutorials and podcasts galore all over the interwebs to celebrate, so make sure to check it out for new ideas and helpful lessons.

Has canning season started in your kitchen yet? What is your go-to tip to make sure you have a stress-free experience?

helpful tips for canning season

How to Stay Cool without AC

It is starting to get hot in Northern California. I, like a million other people in the area (not an accurate statistic, but I’m assuming a lot), don’t have AC in my house. If you are one of these people, than you have also followed this statement with the perfunctory explanation of “but that’s ok because we don’t really need it”. And while I (a Central Coast town native with a temperature comfort range of 55-75) thinks it gets ridiculously hot here,  I do acknowledge we are much more reasonable than many other places in the country. However, that doesn’t mean that the handful of 100+degree days don’t suck, or think the regularly occurring 90-degree days are comfortable.


Air conditioning is a rather new development, invented in 1902 to reduce humidity in a print shop; by 1931 the window unit was created, but was only accessible to the very wealthy. It wasn’t until the 1950s that a residential AC unit became a standard household feature. Central air didn’t come around until the 1970’s. Until then, people kept cool by smartly-designed houses that were custom to their climate and area, and following old-fashioned ways to stay cool.

If your home is like mine, where a summer day means your coconut oil easily melts in your pantry (which is at 76 degrees, btw), and putting in an AC isn’t financially feasible, or you have AC but want to reduce your energy consumption, consider following these simple tips to stay comfortable!

How to Stay Cool without AC

Don’t generate heat. If it is hot outside, avoid making more heat inside. Skip the dry cycle on the dishwasher, and do loads at night. Line dry clothes instead of using the dryer. Replace incandescent bulbs and halogens to LEDs. Take cooler showers, and run the exhaust fan to pull out humid air.  Use a grill outside, or make quick meals on the stove instead of using the oven.

a favorite summer meal is quick cooking soba noodles topped with sauteed chicken and a mess of fresh, cooling veggies and herbs
a favorite summer meal is quick cooking soba noodles topped with sauteed chicken and a mess of fresh, cooling veggies and herbs

Take advantage of cool air. The easiest way that I keep my house cool is using my windows. Open up windows early in the mornings and then close them when the day starts to get warm. Open back up in the evening and night. I find that in Santa Rosa, I leave them open until around 8am, and then open them back up around 5:00, when the afternoon breeze comes in. Or on a really hot days, when the temperature equalizes with outside, around 4:00, and I just suck it up for a few hours.

open windows when cool, close as the day warms up
open windows when cool, close as the day warms up

Cross-ventilate. Open windows on opposite sides of the room, or if they are all on one side, set up a fan near the solid wall to direct air flow. If your house is two-story, open windows on both floors. Open the windows wider on the upper level than the lower to increase air flow speed. If you have fans, run them. Fans don’t change the temperature, but the moving air makes it feel that way.

Use curtains to block sun. Especially on the South and West facing windows, cover with dark shades to block out the sun, and therefore the heat.

i keep heavy curtains on the south facing windows for the sole purpose of keeping out heat
I keep heavy curtains on the south facing windows for the sole purpose of keeping out heat

Make your own shade.  For a long term solution to heat management, plant trees on the East, West & South sides of your home, to cast shade, therefore keeping your home cooler. Highest priority is the South-West side, which will shield the hottest afternoon rays. Choose a deciduous tree, so that you can get warming sun during the winter. Or, consider awnings or trellises over windows. I recently read this article that talked about how air conditioning allows architects to be lazy, as we don’t need to think of way to vent warm air, how to shade windows. If you are remodeling your home, brainstorm and research ways to decrease heat in summer and increase heat in winter, and see if you can implement those in your building.

shade is your friend
shade is your friend

Adjust personal routines. People all over the world live in hot climates without AC, but instead utilize time-tested techniques to stay cool. Drink plenty of liquids, but limit caffeine and alcohol. Enjoy spicy foods and hot teas, which make you perspire, and therefore cooling you down. Wear loose clothing of natural materials, like cotton or linen. Do physical work during the cooler parts of the day, and find a shady spot to relax in during peak heat.

cucumber mint water

Helpful tips on how to stay cool without AC