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Nana's Ranch

Quiet Time

NanaI am blessed. I grew up in town, but I have finally made it to my perfect country life in the Sierra Nevada Foothills of California. Sometimes life gets too busy and I forget to thank God for all I have and all I've been allowed to accomplish. I can't imagine any other life than the one I have.

Bible Tea 1

Asking the Lord to fill my cup – continue to give my life meaning. I'm so thankful.

God bless you all.






What's not to be thankful for, right?

Berm Building and Mulching for Water Retention

NanaI come from a long line of people with soil under their fingernails from playing in the garden or in the fields. My father's parents' families were farmers for a couple of generations before him. He was a nursery owner, landscaper, an agronomist, crop adviser and farm consultant. I learned a lot by watching, listening to, and helping him.

To me, building berms around trees and mulching to hold onto moisture in the soil seem like no-brainers. But these are things a lot of people might not learn by growing up in the city. I realize some of the Capper's Farmer readers might not understand the value of the practice. If you're planting a LOT of trees, you'll probably skip the berm/mulch chore, but if you only have a few, as we do, this is a great water saver.

We planted three olive trees last year, before we discovered how terribly allergic to them my husband is. I'm going to keep both the olives and the husband, but he's getting allergy shots now. Curing olives has become a hobby (I get them from a friend until ours produce enough).

Olives I picked from a friend's tree

When we planted our trees, they each had a small berm around them, which creates a water well, for deep watering. Over time, berms wear down and erode. Goats, deer, Guinea fowl, and chickens all add to the drama. Any mulch we placed around them is gone and has been replaced by dried weeds.

An olive tree in desperate need of a new berm and some mulch

I don't know about other country folks, but at our place, we have piles: piles of manure, piles of old straw, piles of materials, and more. It gets a little annoying at times, but there seems to be a season for everything. When I decided to rebuild the berms and mulch the trees, I was able to get rid of some straw we've had piled at the end of our house for more than a year. That made me smile!

I like to use straw as a mulch if it's available

I put approximately 2 inches of straw in the wells around the trunks of each tree. If I'd had more, I would have made it 4 inches deep. I'll add more mulch as needed throughout the summer and into fall. Water retention is my No. 1 reason for mulching. Weed control is the other reason.

It's important that you don't mulch with hay. Hay has seeds. Seeds will germinate. If I put hay around my olive trees, by the spring, the oats and wheat would be taller than my trees. Straw is the stalk that's left after oats, barley and wheat are harvested for their grains. Hay is the stalks with seeds still attached and is used to feed livestock.

First things first

I watered my olive trees before starting the berm building project. Then I took our big wheelbarrow to a couple of piles of manure and shoveled it in. I use old manure that's seasoned for at least a year. This is really important. Most fresh manure is too hot (high nitrogen content) and will burn or kill your plants and trees. Allergies aside, my husband doesn't want to kill the trees. He's looking forward to home-cured olives as much as I am.

My wheelbarrow has seen better days but it does the trick as a mixer and hauler of manure

I mixed equal parts horse/chicken manure and added water to moisten it. My chicken manure is probably equal parts sawdust (from a local furniture manufacturer), sand and manure scooped out of the coop a few times a year and piled where it can season or 'mellow.'

A manure berm offers water retention and fertilization

All of my trees are planted on a slope so I don't have to put the berm at the top of the tree well. If you plant on flat land, you will have to make an entire circle around your tree. Give your tree plenty of room around the trunk. If you place soil against the trunk, you can suffocate the tree. I gave my trees at least a foot of space between the trunk and the berm.

Finished product isn't much to look at but the trees are happier

Once my berm is built and I've smoothed it out with my hands, I place more straw on the berm. This helps it hold its shape and keeps it from eroding easily; basically it holds together longer. They really need to last at least through the summer, and my hope is that they'll last until next spring. I water it all down again, then water each tree until I fill the well that was created when I built the berm.

If you build your berms with aged manure, you are feeding them as you water because there's really good stuff in the manure. You'll notice some brown fluid running off your berm when you water it down. This is GOOD and your trees appreciate it.

So, plan on building (or repairing) your berms at least annually and adding mulch as needed. If you don't have manure piles lying around, find out if you can get some horse manure from a local stable. Let it sit in a pile for at least six months. As I said, I let mine sit for a year. If you have to buy it at a home improvement store or nursery, ask the sales associate what brand/type is best for your project. I have no idea what you'd use.

If buying an entire bale of straw seems like a waste, find out if neighbors will go in on it with you. Or you can let the leftover straw sit somewhere in the yard. Cover it in the rain and you may be able to use it for a couple of years, as I've done.

**Some horse manure is contaminated with broad leaf weed killer applied to the hay the horses are eating. Recent studies show that some horse manure is toxic and deadly to plants because the herbicides pass through the animals' digestive tract. I don't know if there is a remedy to this. Research this to find out more.**

I hope you've enjoyed this blog about tree berms and mulching. A lot is going on at Nana's Ranch these days, including a drought and the real fear that our well could dry up before the summer is over. 

God bless you all.


At one of my manure piles

Why We Raise Meat Animals and Birds

NanaRaising meat animals isn't for everyone. There are some who have accused me of animal cruelty for raising and butchering animals. Others have said they don't understand how I can kill an animal. I know where some of my detractors are coming from. The idea of eating an adorable, fuzzy little animal is repulsive to them. It's OK! I accept that. I would never force anyone to eat my home-raised meat – for one thing, they would not appreciate the flavor, hard work, nor sacrifice.

But, if you eat meat, you may want to think about it before you voice your disdain for homesteaders who raise meat animals. If you buy meat at a grocery store or restaurant, you need to do a little soul searching before you condemn those of us who choose to live a lifestyle closer to our food source than you do. Homesteading has been around a lot longer than buying meat at a grocery store. While it's not for everyone, insulting us for the practice makes as much sense as having a homesteader stand at the meat counter of the grocery store telling you that buying meat there is wrong. After all, those little styrofoam containers of meat covered in plastic wrap used to be cute, fuzzy little animals too.

I think the reason I'm able to raise animals for food without too much struggle is because that's how I grew up. When you grow up on a farm, ranch, or in a family that raises and kills animals for food, it's not usually an issue to do the same as an adult.


Two of last year's broilers raised for the freezer. Tender and delicious meat.

My parents and I didn't live in the country, but I always had animals of some kind. My dad was big on everyone earning a living or contributing to the family in some way. I had a pet rabbit for a while, but my dad raised meat rabbits and I learned what it's like for a rabbit to 'earn a living.'

When I was 10, I joined 4-H and raised meat rabbits because we didn't have any place for a lamb, steer or pig. When the baby rabbits were born, they were the cutest things I'd ever seen. Dad warned me that all of them would eventually be eaten and I shouldn't name them nor fall in love. So I didn't (in following years I raised sheep and a pig). It's an important thing to remember; once an animal is named, it may be harder to butcher and probably impossible for some people to eat. I don't usually name an animal I'm going to eat.

Growing up, my daughters ate rabbit and chicken we raised at home. They had no idea there was a difference between store bought and home raised and I don't remember any issues with them when it was time to butcher. One thing they did know; all of our animals lived wonderful lives. They had clean, secure housing, and the chickens had the run of the yard during the day.

When my oldest daughter was in 4-H, she raised a dozen Cornish Cross chickens. She wasn't able to butcher them because she'd grown attached to them. I'm afraid that experience soured her on eating home-raised chicken. It was my first experience with the breed and those birds were delicious. 

There are a few things I know when it comes to killing and butchering animals:

1. Animals raised for food deserve to be treated with respect all the way up to the moment they are butchered. They are giving their lives for me and my family, and that is no small sacrifice. I go into the chore with reverence and thank the animal. Sometimes it takes me a day or two to get back to normal after a day of butchering. It's not my favorite thing to do for sure, but the rewards far outweigh the negative feelings I experience.

2. Store-bought meat tends to be from animals raised and killed/butchered in deplorable conditions. I don't do the same to my animals and my family. I run a clean shop. Not only is it the right thing to do, in my experience, the meat tastes better. You can teach your children what it's like to be good stewards of the earth by treating your animals well.

meat animal

No one wants to be the meat animal.

3. I don't butcher animals in front of my other animals. I don't know how much they understand, but I can't help but think it's traumatizing for them to see the process. I either move my live animals away or take my meat animal to another location for processing.

4. If you can't butcher your animals, don't feel bad. It's not for everyone. Look for someone in your area who butchers and pay them to do it. I will butcher small animals (up to a goat), but I don't do cattle or pigs. They are just too big. I also don't want to be around when my large animals are killed and butchered.


Mountain went to a family who fattened him up and butchered him.

5. I enjoy what I'm doing. Raising meat animals can be a relaxing and rewarding hobby. There are ups and downs, for sure, but for the most part it is a wonderful way to give the gift of healthy eating to my family.


I spend a lot of time with my goats and chickens. I appreciate what they do for our family.

6. I don't trick people! It's tempting to serve rabbit and tell my guests it's chicken, but I don't do it. If people are going to be disgusted at the thought of eating a cute little bunny, I serve pork, beef or chicken. Most people won't ask if it is home raised so I don't bring it up. Some people really appreciate eating something I raised because they understand it tends to be healthier and tastier than anything from the store. If they ask, I'll tell them.

Thank you for visiting Nana's Ranch today. God bless you.



The Season's First Campfire

NanaOur grandchildren live in a small apartment in a city in northern California, and they all love coming to visit their Nana and Grandpa. Their last visit was just perfect because we'd finally gotten enough rain to make the grass grow around the fire pit. With burns deemed legal, it was time to introduce them to a marshmallow roast.



The kids' auntie and grandpa helping them load their marshmallows onto Manzanita sticks,

The first thing we did was build the fire: All three children piled shredded newspaper into the fire pit. After that, they each grabbed two small pieces of kindling and either carefully placed or threw them onto the paper. Next we took a short hike to a pile of small diameter oak branches. They carried (or dragged) their chosen branches to the fire pit and put them on top of the kindling.

Nana lit the papers while the grandchildren sat on the bench a few feet away.

After the small fire was safely burning, we hiked across a pasture to find Manzanita branches with just the right length and weight for their little hands. By this time, the kids' aunt had joined us.

Teaching the older two how to load a marshmallow, hold the stick near the flames but not too close, and how to carefully eat the hot deliciousness was a joy. They are a delight. The toddler was afraid of the fire (thankfully) but happy to eat marshmallows right out of the bag. He sat in Grandpa's lap most of the time.

This was our grandchildren's first campfire / marshmallow roast and our grandson said, "Auntie Kweesty, this is the BEST campfire EVER!"

I hope you enjoyed your visit to Nana's Ranch today.

God bless.


Goat Politics

NanaNoOb goat herd management on a hobby farm is interesting. We tried three breeds, not knowing how they would get along or that we would end up getting rid of some. We also didn't plan on a fatal mauling and an accidental poisoning. Ah, goats.



We think our Boer buck died after ingesting a plant that was poisonous.

Before we moved to our ranch, we already had our first goat, a Boer doeling I named Bordeaux. At the time we planned to raise and sell meat goats. After a while though, Grandpa's habit of finding goats that needed new homes not only led to the purchase of a Boer buck but also two fainting goat whethers and two Kinder does, Bonnie and Nonnie.


Bonnie is one of our two Kinder does who needed a new home when her previous owners lost their jobs and had to hit the road as long haul truckers.

With six goats of different sizes and temperaments, we had our hands full. The Kinders were at the bottom of the pecking order and had trouble getting enough food when they weren't open grazing.

The Boers outgrew the fainting goats but weren't as aggressive. When either coyotes or dogs mortally wounded our meanest fainting goat, the herd calmed down a little. Everyone was (almost) getting along.

We bred our buck to all three does. Soon after, we decided to sell off our meat goats and Cookie, the remaining fainter. I had fallen in love with Kinders.


Our first kids; twins by Nonnie

Although the fainting goats were funny to watch (both of ours were great fainters), Cookie's attitude wasn't something we wanted to have around. He was nice to humans but a battering ram to his pasture mates. Finding a miscarried goat fetus in the pasture was the last straw because it may have been caused by him hitting one of the pregnant does in the side.


Cookie was pretty chill around humans but was too mean to the other goats.

Another reality that hit us: People aren't willing to drive an hour out of the city to buy a meat goat when they can get on just down the road. The valley is full of Boer breeders we would be competing with. A good idea at first (how better to let the goats earn a living?), in reality, breeding meat goats made no sense. Selling Bordeaux and her buckling to another breeder was a good decision for us.


Our only Boer kid

Our herd now consists of two purebred Kinders and one Kinder – Boer cross from last year. All three of them have kids. Bonnie has given birth to a single buckling both times we bred her. Nonnie has birthed twins both times; a buckling and a doeling. Nonnie's doe from last year, Abba-Zabba, birthed a single buckling this year. Although she isn't purebred, we'll keep this year's doeling, Rainbow Cherry (she's 75% Kinder) and sell all three bucklings once they are whethered.


This season's kids, three bucklings and one doeling.

I have not started milking my Kinders but I am planning to start in the near future.

I hope you enjoyed reading my rambling goat chronicles today. God bless.


Goat Politics

Nonnie and her kids from 2013, Snickers, Abba-Zabba and Bonnie.

Improvising When You Live in the Middle of Nowhere

NanaWhen my husband and I invited a dozen friends to ride their motorcycles up to our ranch for a ministry meeting and lunch, I wasn't thinking about adding the final leaf to the table or about the fact that I've never had a tablecloth big enough to cover the behemoth.

Just a day before the event, as my husband and I were getting the house ready, I realized none of my tablecloths were going to work. I immediately turned to Plan B: Make One.

Step 1. Build a fire and boil water. With electricity so expensive, the only way to boil a lot of water efficiently is to do it over a fire. I built a nice one and let it burn down a bit before adding a couple of pots of water.

tablecloth fire

Step 2. Because we live so far from a city where we can buy things, I keep odd materials on hand. I have an assortment of Rit dyes and yards and yards of cotton fabric. The first step in making the tablecloth was choosing a dye color. My husband decided on Dark Green. Next, I got my white fabric and laid it along the length of the table, letting it hang over on each end the same amount as it was on the sides (the selvage edges provided a hem of sorts). I snipped and ripped the fabric in the right place and left enough fabric in case I decide to hem it in the future. For now, I simply pulled all the loose strings off both ends and called it DONE.

tablecloth start

Step 3. Wash new fabric to remove any finishes or residues. This is always a good idea. The dye takes to the fabric better if it's wet to begin with.

tablecloth step 2

Step 4. Following Rit Dye directions, I put a few gallons of boiling water in a large tub (it will stain plastic), added 1 cup of salt and a single packet of Rit Dye. I stirred it with an old, clean mop – which I will never use on my floors again.

tablecloth step 4

Step 5. Add fabric to dye mixture and stir, adding enough boiling water to cover. Stir for 30 minutes or until your fabric is the right color. It will be darker when it's wet. I stirred off and on, added a few other items I wanted to dye, and let it soak for a long time between stirrings. As a result, I have a shirt that looks kind of tie-dye. I think my fabric was in the dye bath for around 2 hours.

Step 6. Drain and rinse according to directions on the box.

Step 7. Wash with soap in a washing machine then dry either on a line or in a dryer. I didn't have time to let it hang dry. Because I used 100% cotton fabric, I had a chore ahead of me trying to iron out the wrinkles.

Step 8. Put your new tablecloth on your table and set it. I had to pull a couple of stray strings off each end but it wasn't bad. My cloth has a nice, tight weave.

tablecoth finished

My suggestion is that you always keep different colors of Rit Dye on hand and, if possible, keep some 100% cotton fabrics you can use for various projects like this. I wish I'd thrown in another yard or so of fabric to make matching cloth napkins because I prefer them over paper towels or napkins.

When I put the tablecloth in the washing machine, I felt terrible about letting the fire go to waste. I decided it was as good a time as any to have a marshmallow roast.

tablecloth after party

tablecloth after party 2

I hope you've enjoyed this visit to Nana's Ranch. God bless.


Crafting at Nana's Ranch

NanaIt's still hot outside, but there's something in the air that's telling my brain, "It's time to stock up for winter!" Since I have suffered a 100% fail in the garden and orchard this year (thanks to the ground squirrels, gophers, deer, and rabbits), all of our winter food will come from the grocery store, not my canning and freezing efforts. It makes me sad.

So, instead of making my own spaghetti sauce, I'm sewing and crafting like a maniac. This week's project is square catnip cat toys. I don't have a cat right now, but I grow organic catnip, and I am always looking for something to do with it. Hey, maybe if I had a cat or two I wouldn't have all the trouble with rodents!

I sell sprigs of dried catnip at The Coarsegold Emporium in Coarsegold, CA. A lot of my catnip will be ground into powder and added to the next batch of Castile soap I make. It acts as an exfoliate and adds color as well as a slight scent to my soaps. Still gentle on skin, my catnip soap is popular with cat lovers. I don't know if it will do the trick, but I recently read that catnip is a natural mosquito repellant.

Catnip Plant


The catnip in the squares I'm making is fresh and pungent, having been picked just a day before it's sewn into a toy. I have a couple dozen made and will post pictures on my website.

Homemade Catnip Square

Hand Sewn Catnip Square

How I do it:

Clip catnip and let it dry. This will take from one to four days, depending on the temperature and humidity. It's hot and dry at Nana's Ranch right now, so mine is drying in just over 24 hours.

To make a square, simply cut out a couple of pieces of fabric to act as the front and back. Stitch around the outside edge, leaving an opening to stuff the catnip into. Once you have enough in the pouch, stitch it closed.

Felt Square for Catnip Toy

Felt Squares

I use felt and add decorations. Most of my button decorations are handcrafted from polymer clay. I usually make buttons with no idea where or when I'll use them, so when a project like this comes along, I'm happy to drag out my button bags and search for the right one.

Decorations for Catnip Square


Because both of my sewing machines need repairs, I'm hand stitching the squares while I sit and watch TV in the evenings.

Hand Stitched Catnip Square

Hand Stitched Final Product

I hope your efforts in the garden were better than mine. If not, maybe you can find the time to do some crafting. Either way, enjoy this late summer/early fall season.

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