The Desert Homestead Blog
Urban and rural sustainable homesteading in the desert southwest


I spent a couple hours on Monday making a few raised bed garden frames. They’re 2’x4’x7″ each.  The reason for the weird dimension is that it gives me flexibility to move them around in the yard as needed in order to take advantage of every inch of space. And longer boards wouldn’t fit into my little car. 😀 As for the height, that happened to be the size of the boards I had in the lumber pile at The Ranch. I can use them as-is for lighter plants like greens and radishes, and double them up vertically for plants that need more depth like carrots, peppers, or tomatoes. I used 2 1/2″ wood screws to screw the boards together. The wood isn’t pressure-treated or anything … as dry as it is here, it takes a very long time for wood to rot. When it does, I’ll just replace it. Hopefully I’ll already be at The Ranch full time by then!

Beginnings of my raised bed garden

Last night I had to go to Home Depot to pick up a chop saw, so I picked up a 5″ pot of basil at the garden center while I was there and planted it when I got home — hopefully it’ll do better than my spinach has.

Sweet Basil

Speaking of spinach, it’s been a month since I sprouted my spinach seeds. Only one plant ended up growing, and here it is:

An entire month, and it's barely an inch tall!!

I’m guessing I put it out too early and the heat is preventing growth. The temps here are still regularly hitting 100, and spinach does not like heat. I added some straw to the container as mulch, and am keeping it under my dehydrating rack out in the yard to help filter out some of the heat, but I think it’s still probably just too much for it. My hope is that it recovers and begins growing as the temps cool off, but I’m not holding my breath.

On the plus side, though, my dwarf lemon tree appears to be doing quite well. There was a period when the leaves began displaying yellow and even white blotches on them. I did a little research and the consensus seemed to be that I was overwatering. That made sense, since I was watering daily, but the monsoons were dumping quite a bit as well.

After leaving it unwatered for a week, it seems to have recovered, but then we had a huge windstorm which blew quite a few leaves off. Fortunately the lemons themselves stayed on. It looks like nearly two dozen right now, and at least one is finally beginning to yellow. It’s a Lisbon variety, so around November or December they should start reaching maturity. One of the nice features of lemons is that they can stay on the tree for several months after ripening, meaning I should be able to have about a lemon a week for four months in the winter.



I have a confession to make: I smoke.

I’ve been battling this on and off for decades, quitting for months — even years — at a time, and then picking them back up. As Mark Twain once said, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it hundreds of times.” Yeah, I’m right there with you, Mark.  I’ve been averaging about two packs a week, and that’s a problem.

  • It impacts my performance at the gym, for one. Sometimes, if I’ve smoked heavily the day before and my lungs feel heavy and congested as a result, I won’t even go because I can’t bear the idea of running.
  • It exacerbates my allergies and my brochitis. The more I smoke, the more my nose runs, the more I cough, the more my throat itches, and the less my Claritin seems to work.
  • It costs money. A lot of money. One pack is over $7, and I only buy them a pack at a time. $15 a week adds up quickly, nearly $800 a year.
  • It reduces my lifespan and impacts my long-term health.  Emphysema, cancer, brochitis, and cardiovascular disease are just a few of the “gifts” smoking gives.

In other words, it’s anathema to my lifestyle and my self-view. How can I be frugal when I’m blowing money on cancer-sticks? How can I be concerned with eating organically when I’m inhaling these toxins? How can I spend money on my Crossfit classes when my lungs are too gunked up for me to go? How can I consider myself strong-willed and self-disciplined when I can’t refrain from taking a hit?

I can’t.

So once again I engage the Nico-Demon on the field of battle, hopeful of conquering it once and for all.

The Nico-Demon!

My weapons:

  1. Knowledge of my triggers. I know why I smoke; I associate it with relaxation. It’s a break from stress or boredom. It’s an excuse to walk away from my desk for a specific amount of time. It’s a bonding activity with other smokers whom I never talk to otherwise. So my triggers tend to be stress, boredom, alcohol, and other smokers.
  2. A list of things to do when I get cravings. I won’t get into all of it, but among other things it includes cleaning, gardening, brushing my teeth, taking a bubble bath, sucking on a cinnamon stick or nicotine lozenge, posting on a quit-smoking forum, playing video games (keeps hands busy), and reading health-oriented books or magazines.
  3. A list of reasons not to smoke. I read through this when I get a craving; I’ve listed several above, but others include preventing wrinkles and stained teeth (vanity is a powerful motivator!), no more “ashtray-mouth”, and no more searching for a place where I’m permitted to smoke.
  4. Quitting aids. Cinnamon sticks, nicotine lozenges, Blu brand e-cigs (with 0 nicotine cartridges), and nicotine patches (they give me hives, but they’re a great prophylactic for when I know I’ll be in high-trigger situation. I’m too scared of a heart attack to smoke with one on.)
  5. Rewards. I’ll give myself a “reward” for every milestone I reach of consecutive smokeless days. For example, after seven days, I’ll reward myself with some new plants for the garden. After a month, I get the sand and gravel I’ve been needing for my backyard gazebo area, and so on.
  6. Accountability. I plan to post my progress on this blog daily, noting whether I smoked or not. This keeps me accountable because it’s Out There for the whole world to see. It’ll be in the “Progress Log” at the end of each day’s posts. Actually, given the erratic nature of my blogging, it’ll undoubtedly be the only post on some days!

Wish me luck!

Quit Smoking Resources: (these things are great!)
(cold turkey only — read the TOS on this one!)

Same thing, just a delayed impact.


Busy several weeks here. Most importantly, I passed my rough-in inspection on the Cabana! The inspector found a few issues, but they weren’t severe enough for him to hold me up. I made notes, and he’ll follow up at the final to ensure I corrected them.

My first post-inspection act was to pipe in running water and install the toilet. Since I sleep in the Cabana when I’m up there, having a real flush toilet to use is much preferable to wandering outside and finding a tree, or walking several hundred yards to the outhouse.

Installing the toilet was a bit of an adventure. When I had poured the foundation and subsequently framed, I didn’t know that the drain for the toilet had to be 15″ or so away from the wall. Obvious, yeah … in retrospect. So I had to drill out part of the concrete, dig around the drain pipe, and add a 45-degree elbow to extend it out:

Using a hammer drill. I followed up with hammer and chisel to knock out the concrete a chunk at a time.

In an effort to spare me too much drilling (a major PITA when using a hammer drill instead of a jackhammer, especially when the concrete is fiber-glass reinforced!), I decided to raise the floor of the bathroom by 8″, rather than drilling down that much farther. I used 2×8’s to frame a subfloor and covered it with 1/2″ plywood:

Nail-guns make life much easier!

Subfloor with drain holes. Note the toilet drain is now significantly farther from the wall, and slightly farther from the tub than it was originally.

I also added another raised portion for the bathtub surround. This was previously planned for pure aesthetics — when I take a long bubble-bath (a favorite activity), I have a great view out the bathroom window!

Here’s a pic with the tub and toilet in place:

I'll be replacing the chunk of OSB under the tub with actual plywood, of course.

I also put in a temporary sink in the kitchen area; it’s ugly, but usable.


I haven’t hooked up the hot water yet, because I don’t know if I’ll be able to get the insulation done before winter. If I can’t, I want to be able to drain the pipes easily so there’s no chance of them freezing and cracking during the week while I’m gone. Draining a 35-gallon water heater would be both tedious and wasteful.


My most recent spinach “crop” (to use the term very loosely) appears slightly more successful. After sprouting the seed in a dampened napkin – which took about for days – I planted it in a container of potting dirt outside. 3 days later, it pushed through the surface of the soil.

I had tried sprouting several other seeds at the same time, and despite their having no visible sprouts I planted them in the pot alongside the sprouted seed. As of this morning (Day 8), though, only the one appears to be growing. I’m beginning to wonder if the seed packet was bad due to poor storage or something.

Anyway, Spinach Watch 2010 continues…


I’ve been trying to grow spinach and have not had a lot of success at it. The first time, I planted the seeds indoors in a pot. They sprouted, shot up to about 3 inches (a single long, pale sprout), then rolled over and died. Sources tell me this is a sign of not enough light.

Fair enough. I planted the next crop in small pots outdoors. Despite watering twice daily, the top of the soil in the pots was always dried out, and they never sprouted.

Now I’m on Crop #3. This time I spread eight seeds on a paper napkin, which I soaked with water. I continued to check them and soak the napkin daily. On the 3rd day, I discovered a sprout:

My spinach sprout

Using one of my plant pots, I drilled a series of small holes about 3/4″ deep into the soil, and dropped a seed into each:

I used a watering can to gently but thoroughly saturate the soil completely (I used a hose once, and the pressure blasted both dirt and seeds out of the pot!):

Finally, because I’m heading up to the Ranch this afternoon and won’t be back until Sunday evening, I covered the pot with a thin clear plastic trash bag. I’ve placed the pot outside in a semi-shady area — my hope is that the bag will allow enough light while preventing too much moisture from escaping.

My big fear is that the soil will get too hot and burn the seeds; guess I’ll find out upon my return.


Boneless chicken was on sale for $0.89/lb a few weeks back, so Boy and I bought 20 lbs of it and canned it up. Half of it we mixed with green chiles and onions to make up enchilada filling, and the other half was just straight chicken. In addition, we mixed up some enchilada sauce (about 10 quarts, actually) and canned that up as well.

Significantly after the fact, I discovered that I’d been making more work for myself than strictly necessary. According to the Holy Bible of Canning (the Ball Blue Book), when pressure canning, you don’t need to sterilize the jars! You only need to warm them up, which you can do in the dishwasher should you be so inclined. Sterilization is only necessary when you’re using the boiling water bath method for jellies or high-acid foods.

Also, pints don’t need to process nearly as long as quarts, so I could have saved some time that way as well.

Nevertheless, here are the results:


There are few things as annoying and depressing than excitedly telling your partner about a new project or progress on a current project, and having him/her nod in vague disinterest. Understandably, not everyone has the same interests, but even a little enthusiam would be appreciated, right? Having a confidant not only boosts your own excitement but gives you someone to bounce ideas off of. The key, I’ve found, is tying your project into one of their interests.

I’ve been very enthusiastic about my permaculture garden/aquaponics project, but my partner (aka The Boy) has gotten less interested due in part to my continual rambling rhapsodies on it. He’s devolved to vague “Uh-huhs” whenever I start up, and it was starting to get on my nerves (especially considering the amount of time HE spends talking about his Jeep restoration). Recently, though, we were listening to a podcast about using the CSA model to make money with a niche hobby farm.

The Boy is very interested in making money.

As a result, he’s suddenly expressing a great deal of enthusiasm for my project, and listening much more intently when I talk about it. In turn, I’ve begun focusing on the income-generating aspect of it when we’re discussing it. He’s come up with some great ideas for me, and sends me links to articles when he runs across them online.

It can be difficult finding a common area of interest, but it’s definitely worth it. It’s much more difficult to sustain the discipline or enthusiasm necessary for a long-term project when you’re continually receiving the impression that it’s just not very important.


I’ve been leveling out the portion of my backyard where the pool will go, and I’m pretty close to finished. I’ve also cleaned up a lot of the weeds, organized my gardening containers, and moved my lemon tree to its permanent location. A few pics:

I’ve been going up to The Ranch frequently, so I haven’t had time to get the paving stones in underneath the gazebo. Much as I hate the thought of doing it, I think I’ll probably order the gravel next week and spend the evenings hauling it from the driveway to the back yard. I had hoped to spend a weekend doing it, but it’ll be a month before I have a weekend free, and I don’t want to wait that long.

Speaking of The Ranch, I think-hope-pray that I’ve finally persuaded the roofer to come out this coming Monday and put the roofing material on the Cabana. It’s a special membrane that’s extremely energy-efficient and comes with a 15 year warranty, but needs to be applied with special equipment, which is why I hired a roofer. Nearly four months later, it looks like it’s finally happening. Would have been nice if he had gotten around to it a month ago before the monsoons hit, but at this point I’ll take what I can get.

The water lines have been run and the electrical is partially finished. I’m looking at August 30 to get the signoff for my framing/ rough plumbing / rough electrical inspections. After that, there’s just the final inspection left!


My city neighbors — with whom I’ve gotten along fairly well — are moving. They had asked for assistance in hauling some trash to the dump (the joys of having a pickup!) in exchange for letting us dig through the detritus beforehand. I got 2 large bags of potting soil, several large planters, a couple of outdoor solar lights, and a bunch of bug spray. The Boy scavenged a 30-caliber ammo can and a hand saw. There was some furniture as well, but unfortunately I couldn’t use it.

Being neighborly pays!


I received a letter from my building department. Because I hadn’t had any work done on my house in 5 years, they were going to cancel my permit.


After several emails — including scans of my previous inspections — and a lengthy call to the building department, we finally established that the previous inspections and extensions had all been done using the wrong permit number. They updated my records and agreed to renew my permit until next July, which should be more than enough time to complete.

They did insist that I have the plumbing and electrical rough-ins inspected by the end of September. So this weekend instead of working on interior doors, I’ll be hammer-drilling out the floor of the bathroom in order to move the toilet plumbing, which I dreadfully misplaced prior to pouring the concrete. That should be fun. 😛