Tuesday, October 16, 2007

This blog has moved!

Hello folks,

The more things change, the more they stay the same... this blog has a new address. I've moved all the entries (but not the comments) to a new script at "Shari's Gone Country"

For those of you who are curious... here's why I've moved.

With that said, you'll find a "new look" and in a short time, even more photo options. I'm still getting the photo gallery working correctly (tech issues with the web host that are in the works).

So, join me at http://sharithomas.com ... aka Shari's Gone Country

Posted by Shari Thomas @ 10:48 AM :: (1) comments

Thursday, October 11, 2007

One more "to do" project DONE!

Yeah, I know... it's been nearly a week since I last posted.

Here's why... another one of those simple, "dig a trench, lay a water line, cover it up" and you're done projects.

First, to bring you up to date... we didn't get any snow over the weekend, but it was pretty cold on Saturday. We pretty much "hid out" inside that day. I guess you could say we kind of took most of the day off, with both football and baseball games on the TV.

Sunday was more of the "get ready for winter" stuff, and that included work on the compost pile. Bev and I spent about three hours cleaning the horse pen and stalls so we'd have hot, fresh manure to add to the compost pile. When the wind came up, we declared ourselves done for the day.

Monday, I hand cut cucumbers, onions, tomatillos, green tomatos and sweet red peppers so we could can "sweet relish". Got enough for nearly 8 quarts. Yes, we can our relish by the quart since we use it so much. We managed to get the first 4 quarts done before running out of spices... and even though we'd already run to the corner store... 17 miles one way, we were content to make do with alternate spices for the next 4 quarts.

Tuesday, we spent the day getting ready for our neighbor, Ray to bring his big backhoe over for the "trench project". The first issue we always have here, is where do all these old irrigation lines go, and what happens if we cut one? Do we have a geyser?

Bev and I cleaned the big hole we'd excavated last spring. This is the one next to the chicken coop, where the first frost-free hydrant will go. In the process, we found a one-inch galvanized line (about 36 inches deep) heading somewhat north from below the nipple for the frost free. Where the hell does it go? What does it feed? We know it's a "charged line".

We tried several times to locate the line, even having Ray do a couple of "pot holes", but were unable to locate it. Oh well... we'll just have to keep an eye on any wet spots, or if we here the well pump running at odd times.

By dark Tuesday, we'd managed to dig about 25 feet of the trench. I has to be 36 inches deep to be below the frost line here. It was particularly difficult as the chicken run limited access with the backhoe... no room for the stabilizers.

Add to that we just knew there were two lines about 6 or 8 inches below the surface that we had be locate, cut and cap. Again, no idea if they were hot, or charged... or even where they came from or went. Cindy and I had both encountered them when we were trenching in the chicken run... just 8 inches from where this really deep trench was going.

We probed, we tickled the dirt with the backhoe to no avail... Those lines weren't to be found

Yesterday, we really settled in to all the hard work. This trench is 60 feet long, 36 inches deep, and better than a foot wide... dug in very sandy soil. The real "hard pan" is at about 30 inches, so that meant the backhoe really had to chew hard, and since Ray couldn't get a direct (inline) shot at the trench, it often meant he was chewing from the broadside.

That meant the trench walls would semi-collapse with each "chew" to go deeper... Enter the "three-man"... well one man, one fat woman, and one young boy... shovel crew. I gotta' tell you... I really didn't know I could do all that! I shoveled in that trench for about 5 hours, until finally we had it deep enough, and could move to the next step.

By then, Bev had come home from work... just in time to miss the shovel detail. That's ok... her job was to help Ray with the plumbing... cut all the PVC, and configure all the valves and angles.

We needed hay to insulate the lines. The worst hay was in the horse barn, so off we go with the backhoe. Now, I had two choices... walk to the horse barn in the 30 mph wind with all the dust swirling from the backhoe, or jump up on it, and ride on the fender. This old lady actually got on the backhoe and rode... both directions! No small feat when you consider all the "lead in my butt".

Ok, hay in the trench, water line laid, time to backfill. Once again, we've got the same issue... The backhoe can only get "so close" and is unable to really compact the fill. I'll be raking, and watering for weeks.

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Posted by Shari Thomas @ 10:16 AM :: (1) comments

Friday, October 5, 2007

It's October, and we're expecting SNOW!

Here it is, the first Friday in October, and we have a 50% chance of snow tonight. Needless to say, we've been putting things away, cleaning up the garden area, and adding both manure and mulch to protect the soil.

Yesterday brought high winds and a dust storm. I was out in it, feeding and watering the animals. You could chew the air, it was so gritty. We've had a little wind damage, which we'll repair this evening shortly before dark. The wind is forecasted to lay down a bit, and that will make it easier to put plywood panels back in place on the stable.

Tomorrow, we have to head down to the Beryl Community Center and sign up for our "care and share" boxes tomorrow. Because we're considered "low income", we get a couple of monthly food "drops". Between them and the meals from the Enterprise Senior Center, we're able to keep the food bill to a reasonable level.

Cindy will be out of work in about three weeks, so we really have to wrap up all the projects (at least the ones that cost money). That includes get the farm truck here, purchase one more frost-free hydrant and get both the chicken and sheep hydrants installed, and get the tin for at least the stable, if not the chicken coop.

After that, we'll be limited to simply paying the existing bills and barely keeping our heads above water over the winter. At least Bev will be working all winter and she has gained some extra hours as well as a raise.

Time to return to work on "The Four Country Gals", the book/blog I'm writing about how we all got together, and then got to where we are.

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Posted by Shari Thomas @ 11:07 AM :: (1) comments

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I've been working, not just playing!

Ok, I know... it's been way too long since I brought you up to date about things here at "The Four Country Gals"' little spread. I really do spend a fair amount of time "out and about" with the animals, and my roommates.

With excellent weather this past weekend, we worked to get as much protection up for the horses as possible. Oh, we also spent time in training with both Dakota and Dusty.

I'm working with Dakota, who really believes she's a "pocket pony". While I love her to death, I'm really working to get her out of my personal "hoola hoop" space. It's gonna take a while, since she's a real lover. Together, we're working on "back" as well as "yield your hindquarters" correctly. That means pick up your inside hind foot and cross it over in front of your other hind foot.

Cindy spent some real quality time with Dusty, and lo and behold... She actually got on him.

All by herself, she saddled him, prepared him for weight with the "jump, jump, jump" and lay across his back. He was such a perfect gentleman, she took time out to get Bev and the camera... just in case.

Here's the proof! She's up in the saddle. Looks like she really belongs there, too.

Oh, the chickens... well, they're laying up a storm, to the point that Mom has asked me to post ads for her... Farm Fresh Brown Eggs For Sale as low as $1.75/doz. We're getting anywhere from 8 to 10 eggs a day... more than any of us should eat.

Our sheep are still getting fatter. Sure wish I could tell if they're really pregnant or just getting fat. I'm giving them until October 20 before I turn Algernon (our ram) loose with the ewes. If they aren't preggie now... they will be all winter!

Yesterday afternoon we had our first "disaster" of sorts. The greenhouse blew apart. We had been aware (to the point of filing a claim against the warranty) that we had wind/sun damage to the greenhouse cover.

Earlier this week, we received a replacement cover, which we've not yet installed, as we were busy with the horses, and also waiting for the right time... gotta have little to no wind to install the cover.

Anyhow, yesterday we had a huge windstorm with gusts somewhere around 50. The greenhouse was up when I gathered eggs at 2:30pm and it was down when I went to feed at 4:45pm.

When Bev and Cindy got home, we at least stabilized what we could and laid down both end covers to prevent further damage. I feebly suggested we should maybe move things in case it rained. With a 40% chance of rain, my idea was ignored... not the smartest thing to do.

In about 2 hours, we had a series of hellacious thunderstorms roll through the valley. Lightening took out our new DSL connection for over 3 hours. We got close to a quarter inch of rain... see, I told you so!

Mom checked things over this afternoon and was very relieved to have only lost one small box of "plant food". Everything else that got wet was ok, so there's no dog house visits for any of us today.

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Posted by Shari Thomas @ 3:59 PM :: (1) comments

Utah or Bust… through the Rockies!

The Four Country Gals (at least two of them) are on their way from Ohio to Utah. They're pulling up stakes and moving to an as yet unseen house and acreage in rural SW Utah... the Escalante Desert Valley.

read more | digg story

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Posted by Shari Thomas @ 3:55 PM :: (0) comments

Monday, October 1, 2007

Yes! Small Town Living has published my article

Over the weekend, Small Town Living, an online magazine dedicated to promoting a simpler life and small town America released their latest issue.

"Oh give me a home..." can be found on page 21 of this fantastic bi-monthly magazine.

Just so you know I'm not the only one published... you can learn how to grow winter squash... with enough to share with your neighbors. There's also some awesome recipes for Acorn Squash.

Got bats in your belfry? You don't? Maybe you should. There's a whole article on the value of having some "local bats".

If you've got the hankering to carve pumpkins, you'll find tips and ideas for creating that special face as well as ways to stay safe.

Oh, and if you love the Appalachian Trail... then you really want to grab this issue.

So, what is "Oh give me a home..." all about? I'd tell ya... but then you might get lazy and not click on the link to Small Town Living.

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Posted by Shari Thomas @ 3:54 PM :: (1) comments

Friday, September 28, 2007

With the Seniors to Bryce Canyon

Yesterday was a long day. I went with the Senior Citizens from the Enterprise Senior Center to Bryce Canyon National Park.

It was about 170 miles each way and took nearly three hours to get there.

We had lunch at Ruby's Inn a delightful destination resort. They've been open since before Bryce Canyon was declared a National Park.

All told, there were seven of us including Bev (my roommmate) and myself. She drove us to all the major "points" so we could get out and explore the sites. I'll get pictures posted within the week.

Having left the house shortly after sunrise (before 8AM) we didn't arrive home again until shortly before sunset (7:30 PM).

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Posted by Shari Thomas @ 9:55 AM :: (0) comments

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Water rights... stop the abuse of power

This post is a personal opinion by a resident of Escalante Valley. It is also posted in conjuction with Bloggers' Unite, and effort to bring world-wide attention to abuse of all kinds.

I've done a little research on this issue of suddenly needing to restrict the use of water in Escalante Valley, Utah.

In the state of Utah, water is public property, and to use it personally, you must purchase "water rights". Typically, they are sold by the acre-foot (325.8 thousand gallons). You purchase that right for a lifetime, to use annually.

Over the years, the State Water Engineer has established water usage "duties" as well as the formulas determining how much water it takes to do certain activities, like irrigation. The duty for irrigation water in this valley is four acre-feet of water per acre of crop, no matter the crop, or the irrigation method.

In our valley, the most prevalent crop is alfalfa. Corn and potatoes comprise less than 20% of total crop production. Also, of all the water used, less than 10% of the water rights are dedicated to domestic or culinary use.

The State Water Engineer has been tasked with the requirement to establish Ground Water Management Plans for various regions in Utah. The Beryl-Escalante Aquifer has been singled out as an example of "water mining". That is the unique situation where far more water appears to be removed annually that is re-charged by natural runoff.

Here's what I find interesting.

Water users, including the large irrigation users do not meter their water. Home users don't meter their water. So just exactly how do you really know how much is being used?

The State Water Engineer bases his figures on how many "water rights" have been sold and recorded with the state. It shows there are approximately 83,000 acre-feet of water rights issued in the Beryl-Escalante Valley Basin.

Best "guesstimates" are an annual re-charge rate of some 33,000 acre feet.

Unfortunately, there is no credit for conservation of water. The State Water Engineer's office makes no distinction for the difference of using a "corn gun" vs using drip irrigation, or even calculation the savings generated by simply lowering the sprinkler heads on the large pivot wheels.

Their water usage tables are way out of whack when it comes to how much water is used for watering farm animals. We water three horses, nine sheep, and just under two dozen chickens. We control the water we use by always putting the water into measured containers.

Our horses rarely drink more than 15 gallons per horse per day, and yet the calculations say we are using 75 gallons per day.

Our entire herd of sheep rarely drink more than 20 gallons per day and yet, the State Water Engineer declares the sheep drink 45 gallons per day.

Our chickens rarely collectively consume more than 4 gallons of water per day, and yet the forumlas say our chickens consume nearly 18 gallons per day.

So, if we use about half or so of what we're allowed, what happens when that figure is multiplied across the valley population?

The large water users have formed a group called the Escalante Valley Water Users Association. They have come up with a plan that is unprecedented in Utah history. In addition to actively working to conserve water usage, they are willing to participate 50/50 with the state to repurchase and retire up to 20% of the existing water rights.

That is a much more palatable solution than the one proposed by the State Water Engineer. His solution is to cut off water rights for anyone who's rights are dated more recently than 1941. That solution would take away virtually all the domestic water rights. With no domestic rights, homes become unfit for occupancy and millions of dollars worth of property become worthless overnight.

The State Water Engineer has been routinely rejecting any plan offered by the Escalante Valley Water Users Association. I personally believe that after the meeting this last Monday night, at which almost all the local legislators pledged their whole-hearted support... things may change.

If in fact, the State Water Engineer is being short-sighted and heavy-handed to the point of abusing the valley... things could get very exciting.

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Posted by Shari Thomas @ 8:00 AM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Results of the Local Water Users Meeting

We (along with about 300 other local residents) attended a meeting presented by the Escalante Water Users Board. This is a group of large agricultural users who have been diligently working on a plan to stimulate water conservation and also to assist the state by developing a plan to re-purchase and retire "water rights"

Seems that the largest issue surrounding the plan offered by the Water Users is that the Utah State Engineer, who is personally and solely in charge of administering Ground Water Management Plans, feels the plan is "woefully short" of goals set forth by the State Legislature.

Basically, the state passed a Ground Water Management Law that says "The State Engineer may establish Ground Water Management Plans where necessary for conservation to reach a "safe usage level"... and that he shall consider any and all economic impact to the local water users.

The Escalante Desert Valley sits atop an aquifer who's size has yet to be fully determined. We know that in the 1950's average well water levels were around 46 feet. Today, the average well level (as determined by 11 monitored wells out of thousands) the water level is closer to 90 feet.

Since most wells are drilled to about 200 feet, no one really knows for sure how deep the aquifer really runs. No one knows for sure how long it takes for the mountain snow to re-charge this underground lake either.

Now the State Engineer would love to exercise the "easy solution" quite soon. That would be to come to "safe usage" within a matter of a few years. After all, he could say this is what he was directed to do, and he did it.

Utah law provides that water rights and the restrictions of their usage is based on "first priority" by date. For all practical purposes, to return to "safe usage" in the near future, anyone who owned water rights dated any more recently than the end of 1941 would lose the right to use water... even if it meant they'd have no domestic (culinary) water right.

That means a person's home would become immediately unfit for occupancy, and financially worthless. That would affect hundreds of homeowners throughout the valley.

For further information on this "abuse" of power by the State Engineer, check the latest article, written by Mitch Cole a resident of Beryl Junction and member of The Spectrum and Daily News Writers Group.

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Posted by Shari Thomas @ 3:46 PM :: (0) comments

Monday, September 24, 2007

Water rights issues... stop the abuse

Living here in the Escalante Desert Valley, we're always concerned about water, and "water rights". For the record, we officially have 1 acre-foot of water for our use. That means we can use up to 325851.428571 gallons of water per year.

When I do the math, it figures out this way. Each day we can use up to 892.745 gallons of water. For the four of us and all our animals... that seems like a lot of water.

Don't get me wrong, we're not the least bit interested in giving up any of our water rights. In fact, we'd like to purchase one additional acre-foot, but at a minimum asking price of over $5,000, it's not likely to happen in the near future.

Now, I've done a little investigating (anyone can do this with access to the right links), and personally believe someone needs to really think through the formulas.

For example here are the basic allowances for different kinds of livestock.

cow or horse 0.028 acre-foot
sheep, goat, swine, moose, or elk 0.0056 acre-foot
ostrich or emu 0.0036 acre-foot
llama 0.0022 acre-foot
deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, or mt. goat 0.0014 acre-foot
chicken, turkey, chukar, sagehen, or pheasant 0.00084 acre-foot
mink or fox (caged) 0.00005 acre-foot

When I calculate this on a daily basis, it tells me that our horses are expected to consume an average of 25 gallons per day, per horse. Our sheep are expected to consume just shy of 5 gallons per day per sheep. Our chickens are exptected to consume 3 quarts per chicken per day.

Folks, that's a lot of water per animal, and since we control our water through the use of measured containers, these figures are excessive.

For domestic use, we're allowed a full 100 gallons per person as there are four of us in the family and we get 401 gallons per day. Again, the allowance is very generous.

Now, here's the problem.

The State of Utah believes the water table in this valley is being depleted by overuse, and they are setting about changing how things are done... and that includes the distinct possibility that "water rights" which have been purchased could be disallowed. And that would be done without compensation.

We're going to a valley-wide meeting tonight where we will learn a whole lot more about what's happening. There are some huge farmers in this valley who have the rights to 1000's of acre-feet of water who are most unhappy. They've formed a "Conservation District" and are laying plans to fight any action by the state.

This could get interesting. I'll be blogging more about this over the next two days leading up to a world wide "blog-a-thon" sponsored by Bloggers Unitie, entitled "Stop the Abuse".

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Posted by Shari Thomas @ 1:21 PM :: (0) comments