Monday, September 20, 2021

Making Some Changes

 While Brett and I (and the animals) were evacuated and waiting to be allowed back home, we did a lot of thinking and talking about changes that we need to make given that we live in an extreme fire danger area and that we don’t want to move.  Despite the craziness, fear and discomfort of fire season, we love our little ranch and we love living in the mountains.  

The changes we discussed included downsizing our herd and getting an RV so we have a place to stay in the event of evacuation.  Finding a place to stay when you have three dogs with you isn’t easy.  We were very fortunate to be offered a place to stay, with the dogs, this time.  There are no guarantees for the future and driving out the gate, and past the police barricade, with no idea where we were going to sleep that night was very stressful.

Some of you know that I drove a little BMW coupe to work, as my commuting car.  I figured that if I had a long commute on winding country roads, I might as well have a fun car.  Besides, I’ve always loved those cars.  When I retired, it spent most of its time in the garage.  I hardly ever drove it.  When we evacuated, I parked it in the middle of the arena and prayed it wouldn’t burn.  Brett drove his truck and I drove the CRV.  Brett has never asked me to sell my car, he knows how much I loved it.  So, he was surprised when I suggested that we sell it and use the money towards a RV.  If we had a trailer, we would have a place to stay in the event of an evacuation.  And, we’ve always loved to camp so we could do that as well.  That first step is done.  We sold my car and put a down payment on a RV.  And, I don’t miss the car at all.  I wasn’t sad when I sold it.  Not for one minute.  I guess the BMW driving healthcare executive persona just isn’t me anymore.

The second thing we decided to do is to downsize our herd.  We can’t fit five horses in our trailer.  It carries three comfortably, four in a pinch.  We had time to move all five this time but that was unusual.  And, who wants to be in the position of choosing who doesn’t get out?  Not us.  

This past weekend, we took Luek down to his previous owner who lives on a huge cattle ranch on the Central Coast of California.  It was a very long drive, almost eight hours, but Luek trailered great.  He quietly munched his hay as we drove down the freeway and when we stopped for gas, he put his head out and let people pet him.  When we pulled up to the gate, he got very excited, stomping around and tossing his head.  He knew he was home.

His owners’ granddaughter asked if she could unload him and put him in the pasture.   Green grass!!  …and a 12 year old girl to fuss over him.  We feel so good about this decision.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Evacuation — A Goat’s Perspective

 When we received the first evacuation warning, we packed our bags and started moving the horses.  It took a full day, but we got them all to a safe location, far from the fire.  The goats, donkeys, dogs, barn cat and chickens remained on the ranch with us.  We took the dogs with us when we got the mandatory evacuation order and left the goats and donkeys in their large, dirt pastures.  

I requested that Animal Services come out and do welfare checks on the animals still at the ranch.  We were not allowed to cross the evacuation line and go check on them ourselves, but animal services was going from home-to-home and ranch-to-ranch and checking on animals, leaving food and water, if requested.  We got our request in the system first thing.  

An Animal Services officer called me when they got to the ranch.  She strongly recommended taking the donkeys and goats to the evacuation site at the fairgrounds in Amador County, about 30 minutes from here.  I explained that the donkeys do not load well — it took two hours to load Finessa last time we tried. And the goats might run amok, looking for shrubs to eat and avoiding the trailer.  But, yes, they were welcome to try.  We chuckled to ourselves.  No way would they get the donkeys in their trailer.  A few minutes later, the same officer called and said that all the animals were loaded and they were headed out.  The donkeys walked onto the trailer with no trouble and they got the goats too.  We stared at each other in happy disbelief.  

Later that evening, we got a call from the large animal evacuation site.  They had put the donkeys and goats together in the same pen.  They were at the fairgrounds so if you’ve ever been to the fair, and looked at the pigs and sheep and goats, you know the general size of the pen.  When they brought in dinner, Tuffy attacked Bear.  The donkeys and goats have been together before but only in a large pasture.  Tuffy has chased the goats a bit, but there was plenty of room for the goats to run away and Tuffy never chased them for long.    In the small pen, Tuffy was able to grab Bear leaving a very deep laceration on his side, just behind his front leg.  It was too deep to care for at the evacuation site so the on-site vet took Bear to UC Davis, a bit more than an hour away.  UC Davis provided free veterinary care at the evacuation site and for Bear that meant a trip to the veterinary school where he was stitched up, put on antibiotics and cared for.  After a few days, he was brought back to the evacuation site by one of the vets.  I received a detailed report of his treatment and discharge instructions.  A divider had been added to the goat pen (the donkeys were now in their own pen, further down the row) to create a safe, quiet space for Bear to continue his recovery.  

I was going down to visit the goats and donkeys every few days.  At first, I went every day.  The goats were very stressed.  In contrast to their usual life in a huge pasture, with no sounds except birds and the dogs barking at the occasional delivery vehicles, they were in a small pen with a couple of hogs next door.  The hogs were constantly grunting and squealing and sticking their snouts under the divider.  The goats hugged the far wall and looked at me with alarm.  The evacuation center was full so they had pens of more pigs, even some babies (so cute), sheep, goats, horses and donkeys around them.  Volunteers cleaned all the pens every day and fed the animals.  It was busy and loud and a bit overwhelming for the goats.  After a few days, they got used to the noise and activity.  When Bear was returned from the hospital, I sat with him in his space.  His stitches looked good and he was very happy to see me, baa-ing softly.  I sat on the ground, on a pile of hay, while he stood almost in my lap with his head pressed into my shoulder.  

We brought the goats and donkeys home yesterday.  The donkeys came home first and loaded easily.  We’ve been working with them since moving up here, leading them around periodically, and they are much improved.  I guess we didn’t give them enough credit for being improved.  Finessa had developed an abscess in her front hoof and it was wrapped with a poultice (UC Davis vet again).  She had been given banamine (for pain) before we arrived and so she was gimpy but able to limp out to the trailer.  Once the donkeys were home and settled, we went back to the fairgrounds to get the goats.  I brought a bucket of mulberry branches, a favorite of the goats.  The volunteers helped us build a chute from the goat pen to the trailer.  I waved some mulberry leaves under their noses and they followed me right into the trailer.  In a few days, I will remove Bear’s stitches.  In the meantime, all the goats are enjoying the peace and quiet and space of their pasture.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021


 We have been impacted by the Caldor fire.  We have been evacuated.  We are okay.  The animals are okay.  The ranch is still standing.  We are hoping to go home in a few days.  We are fortunate.

It started August 17 when Brett went out to do chores and immediately called me to come look, quick.  This fire column was way too close for comfort.  

The fire started about 10 miles from us and we thought we were safe.  But, we were wrong.  The fire took off and soon we found ourselves in an evacuation warning zone.  We stayed at home for about a week.  During that time, we reviewed our evacuation plan for the animals and packed out “go” bags: three days worth of clothes, passports, dog food, medications, etc.  The smoke was thick and ash coated everything.  There were a few days where we couldn’t see 50 feet.  We kept the dogs inside with us and ran the a/c so the inside air would recirculate through filters. It helped.  We also evacuated the horses.  We knew that it would be time consuming to move all of them, with multiple trips since there are more horses than there is space in the trailer.  We took the horses to a place about 45 minutes away where they settled into a huge shady pasture.  Other than Lucy kicking Flash which resulted in a huge hematoma and blood, but no internal injuries, it all went smoothly.  But, we were beat when we finished.  The traffic was horrible with people evacuating from homes up the road from us, so it took much longer to do than we anticipated.  

In addition to the smoke, there was a constant hum and chatter from the water tankers and helicopters flying overhead.  A retardant dipping station was set up at the end of our street.  The planes got bigger and started flying lower, just skimming the trees.  I’ve seen my share of small crop dusters dipping low like dragonflies over fields of crops.  This was different — HUGE planes, commercial aircraft sized planes, were flying low and banking over the ranch.  We were sitting on the porch watching them a week ago when the phone rang and we got the order we were dreading — get out now.  Mandatory.  We threw the dogs and our go bags into the car, I texted my contact for possible housing, and we headed to her house.  We left the chickens, the donkeys, the goats and the barn cat.  The donkeys and goats were in their large, dirt pastures.  I parked my car in the middle of the arena.  After being in crisis auto-pilot mode while loading the vehicles and leaving, I found myself fighting back tears as I drove with our bags and Brett following me in the truck with the dogs.  When we got to our destination, I pretty much collapsed in his arms.  I was scared.


A fellow Master Gardener offered to let us stay in her beautiful granny flat.  There is a large attached, fenced area where the dogs can run.  The dogs were very anxious and clingy the first few days but are doing fine now.  I called Animal Services the morning after we evacuated and asked them to do a welfare check on the animals left behind.  The went out and were able to evacuate the donkeys and goats to the large animal evacuation center at the fairgrounds.  Initially the goats and donkeys were together which was fine until feeding time.  Then Tuffy took a big bite out of Bear.  Fortunately, UC Davis has vets rounding at the evacuation sites.  The vet working that night loaded Bear into her car and took him to UC Davis where he was stitched up.  The donkeys and goats were separated.  They are in a building with pens that house horses, donkeys, goats and pigs.  The goats have pigs next door and they were scared of the snorting snouts poking between and under the rails separating them.  They are used to it now.  Bear is doing well should be returned to his herd today or tomorrow.  

The fire is raging towards Lake Tahoe and most of the west side, where we are, is under control.  There is one area, deep in a steep canyon, that is still problematic but they are optimistic they will get it under control in the next few days.  That area is, of course, very close to the ranch so we can’t go home until they finish up there.  

But the good news is we are safe.  Our animals are safe. The ranch is safe.  There are close to 600 homes that have been lost so far in this fire.  We know we are fortunate.  The generosity of the community has been overwhelming.  In the midst of all this chaos, we feel blessed.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

April Garden

 The garden is really coming to life.  Most of the perennials have broken their winter dormancy and the few laggards will follow soon.  The grass is green, the trees are leafing out, and the birds are busy building nests in the eaves on the porch, in the horse trailer hitch, in the barn rafters and the trees.  

Yellow iris are in full bloom.  I don’t know this variety’s name but it blooms twice, is healthy, and prolific.  The dwarf lilac in front is relatively new.  I planted three of them two years ago.  The dogs have kept two of them “well trimmed” by chewing on them and crashing through the planter.  But this one is doing very well.

Speaking of lilacs, I have more.  I just love these two varieties.  The first is called ‘Katherine Hanemeyer’ and is incredibly fragrant, in addition to being gorgeous.  The second is called ‘Sensation’ and has very unique and striking coloring with the burgundy petals outlined in white.  I only get a few blooms on this lilac but they make ‘em count.

I love violas.  I have different varieties, including Johnny Jump Ups and ‘Etain.’  They are very happy under the lilacs.

Earlier this month, my newest peony rewarded me with beautiful yellow fragrant blooms.  I found this plant when Brett and I were in Sonoma for my birthday, poking around a Ace Hardware nursery in Healdsburg.  The plant was pricey but, hey, it was my birthday.

Strawberries are starting to ripen.

Two of my new water trough planters have been planted.  This first one has chard, lettuce, beets, shallots and parsley.

The second one has sugar snap peas, more lettuce and chard.  There are also a couple zinnia plants at the front to encourage pollinators.  I tuck zinnias in all over the place: in my vegetable beds, in the flower beds and in the perennial planter.

My rhubarb from Skoog Farm is going crazy.  I’ve already made two cobblers with it — strawberry rhubarb and cherry rhubarb.  When I have more strawberries, I’ll make strawberry rhubarb jam.

In another week or so, I will plant my tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.  The nights are still too cold in April for them — they go out around Mothers Day.  The tomato bed is currently planted with a cover crop of fava beans and red clover.  ...and volunteer poppies which I just can’t bear to pull out.

Monday, March 29, 2021

The March Garden

 The best part of March is daffodils.  For each of the first seven years that we lived here, I planted a big box of 500 daffodils on the ranch.  So, now there are thousands of them.  There are daffodils in the garden beds, in the front planter, flanking the bridge and zig-zagging along the stream.  I suppose I have an obsession with daffodils.  They are just so dang easy — plant them and forget about them.  They come back — and multiply — every year.  They are the first flower to emerge in early spring, they are beyond cheerful and smell great.  The perfect flower.

The fruit trees are starting to blossom with the promise of summer fruit.  There were a couple of bees busy in the pear flowers a few days ago.  

The green house is overflowing with plant starts.  There are plants for my garden, of course, but the vast majority are for the Master Gardener Plant Sale in a few weeks.

I have eight varieties of tomato. 

There are three varieties of eggplant and four varieties of peppers.  

And zinnias.  Two varieties of zinnias.  They will not go to the plant sale as it is just veggies and perennials.  These zinnias will be planted in the raised beds with the vegetables.  

Out in the garden, I have a few vegetables just starting or recently transplanted.  There are sugar snap peas because they are so good for snacking when I’m working in the garden.  I also have carrots, beets, chard, and lettuce just poking out of the soil.  

Flash thinks all this working in the garden is crazy.  His idea of spring is napping in the sun. 

Friday, March 26, 2021


 Kersey is a very sweet, affectionate and obedient lab.  But she isn’t very smart and she isn’t very fast.  She’s getting up there in age and arthritis has really slowed her down,,, but she was never fast.  Most often, I use two nicknames with her: Old Lady and Dumb Dumb.  Affectionately, of course, because she is looking at me with her big wet brown eyes and slowly wagging her tail from side to side. 

Before we go to bed at night, we take the dogs out to pee.  They normally do their business and then come right back in, ready for bed.  Sometimes, Sage will take off barking at something but she’s never gone long.  Kersey just sniffs the grass, does her thing, and comes back up onto the porch.  A couple nights ago, Sage took off barking in the direction of the compost piles — and Kersey followed.  Sage usually runs off towards the front gate or barn which means she is probably chasing deer.  The compost piles are not a good place — skunks love the compost piles. 

Sage came back pretty quickly and headed for bed.  Kersey did not come back, despite me calling and calling and calling.  Brett came outside and took a turn at calling.  Then he got a flashlight, put on his boots, and headed off in the darkness to find her.  Which he the compost piles.  He brought her into the house and called me over, “take a look and see if you think she got skunked.”  Um, yes.  She had rolled in the compost after getting hit with the oily spray so she was a lovely shade of black where the compost had stuck to the oil.  

We took her to the barn and gave her a bath.  This is the third time that she has been skunked.  She was very pleased with herself.  Thankfully, a mix of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and dish soap works really well to remove the oil and odor.  I rubbed it onto the top of her head, around her eyes and muzzle, down her back and her left side — she was very thoroughly skunked.  Luckily, we have warm water in the horse wash stall in the barn.  And, I have all ingredients for skunk wash on the shelf because, like I said, she isn’t very smart and this isn’t the first time she’s been skunked.  It didn’t take too long to bathe her, but was not my preferred thing to be doing at 11pm on a cold night. 

And, yes, the house reeked from the brief time Kersey was inside before her bath.  We kept a window open all night and it was cold in the house in the morning.  

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Fish Emulsion Mistake

 When I start seeds, I add a bit of fertilizer as an ingredient in my seed starting mix so I don’t worry about feeding the baby plants when they first sprout.  There is also a bit of fertilizer, some compost and worm castings that are added to my potting mix when I move the seedlings up to 4” pots.  Some of these plants will go to the Master Gardener spring plant sale (our big fund raiser for the year) and some will go in my garden.  Regardless of where they end up, I want them strong and healthy with a mass of white roots filling the pot.  So, after the plants have been in their pots for a month or so, I give them a little drink of fish emulsion.  

This morning was the day.  I fertilize on the 15th of the month — I have to pick an easy to remember day otherwise I forget.  Tomorrow, the 15th, we are expecting snow so I did it today.  I put a couple tablespoons of fish emulsion in my watering can and filled it with water.  The lovely smell of fish emulsion filled the greenhouse.  Think tuna.  Both Sage and Acorn appeared at my feet, noses twitching as they tried to locate the fish.  When I watered the little pots, both dogs stood under the bench and licked up the fishy water that leaked through.  

I still had some of the mix in my watering can so I took it out to the garden bed where I have parsley, turnips and bok choy growing.  The dogs were eyeing the planter bed with interest so I made sure they came with me when I left the garden, closing the back gate behind me.  

A few minutes later, I was busy mucking one of the pastures when I realized that Acorn was no longer with me.  I looked over at the garden and there he was — standing in the raised bed, digging like mad, trying to find that fish.  He had gone around to the front gate which was closed, but not latched, and let himself in.  One of the turnips was half-way out and the other plus the bok choy were flung to the side.  I stuck them back in the ground but I don’t have high hopes for their survival.  I think he chomped the roots.  Dang dog.  And stupid me for not latching the front garden gate.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Tex in 2021

 It’s been awhile since I’ve given an update on Tex.  The big red dun still owns the biggest part of my horse heart.  ...funny how so many people and animals can crowd into one heart without it feeling crowded at all.  

Some of you will remember that a number of years ago, when I first started working with Tex, when he became mine, I did quite a bit of liberty work with him.  We even spent a weekend in Sonoma County learning from a renowned trainer there.  At the time, Tex wouldn’t come near me and he was dang hard to catch.  Even with a bucket of treats, Tex was reluctant to come near.  And put on a fly mask?  HA HA HA.  No dice.  

Over time, he’s learned to accept a fly mask and he will come to me in the pasture to be caught.  I’ve made sure that most of the time getting caught means wandering around the ranch with me eating grass and carrots that I’ve hidden.  Its our scavenger hunt and Tex loves it.  In the past couple of years, Tex has come to enjoy being groomed and will stand quietly to be saddled and for the farrier.  When we (rarely) ride, he is relaxed and I always want to stop before he does.  We’ve come a long way.

Tex shares a pasture with Lucy and Luek.  When I am cleaning the pasture, Lucy follows me around begging for attention.  She loves having her withers scratched, or her butt, or her back, or her ears.  She’s big on hugs too.  Tex has always kept to himself.  He wouldn’t run off when I walked by, but he didn’t follow me around either.  

I used to get up at the crack of dawn and race around the pasture, flinging poop into the muck cart, and then racing back out the gate to get ready for work.  It’s taken me awhile to relax about chores, but since retiring I muck after breakfast when the sun is up and has taken the edge off the morning chill.  I enjoy the birdsong, the sunshine, and lingering with the horses.  In the past few weeks, after months of making a point to spend a little time scratching Tex’s withers and rubbing his neck — whether he wanted it or not — Tex has decided that he likes the attention.  Now, he is first to greet me and he follows me almost as much as Lucy.  A couple of times in the past week, he has walked over to me and stood at my shoulder like we used to do for liberty work.  We walked up and down and around a couple trees a few days ago and he never left my side.  He definitely took a bigger chunk of my heart that day.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Time to Start Tomato Seeds

 Tomatoes are one of the summer vegetables that can be started from seed in the weeks before spring.  I love tomatoes.  I mean, I really really love tomatoes.  Not the ones from the market, especially in winter.  Not those tasteless mealy things.  (I swear Brett thinks he doesn’t like tomatoes because he never had them fresh from the garden until I came along).

I plant ten or eleven tomato plants in my garden.  This year there will be 8 different varieties.  I like a mix of reliable slicers and sweet cherry tomatoes.  There are some varieties that show up again and again, year-after-year — for me that would be Arkansas Traveler, Black Krim and Sun Gold (cherry tomato).  Sun Gold tomatoes are the ones that convinced Brett that tomatoes are actually pretty dang good.  Very few of the Sun Golds make it into the kitchen, I snack on them while I’m working in the garden.  They are a bright orange color and incredibly sweet.  I’m trying four new varieties this year.  Two of them looked too interesting to pass up. 

I lugged my propagation stuff from the tool shed shelf into the greenhouse and got it all set up.  I unrolled my heat mats, and my thermostat, and dug out my block making tool.  I am kind of over-the-top when it comes to seed starting.  You don’t need all the paraphernalia that I have, but it does ensure a high percentage of germination.  I make my own seed starting mix (peat, vermiculite, sifted compost, fertilizer and a touch of lime), get it wet, and form it into blocks.  I plant one or two seeds in each block.  I planted eight blocks of each tomato variety.  The extras will be donated to the Master Gardener spring plant sale that is the main fund raiser for our demonstration gardens.  

Once the seedlings are big enough that I can see their roots on the side of the block, I transplant the whole block into a 4” pot.  This way I can start a lot of seeds in a relatively small space and I don’t have to worry about traumatizing them when I move them to a larger pot.  It works well for me.  

So, now I sit and wait.  I will mist the soil daily and keep the domes on the flats until the seedlings are up. In a few weeks, I’ll be starting more seeds.  Whee!

If you want to give seed starting a go without all the fuss of doing it this way, check out this article I wrote for a local publication on how easy it is to do.  Honest.  

Sunday, January 24, 2021


 Since I retired a bit more than a year ago, I have been a gardening fiend.  I planted a few more fruit trees a few years ago, outside of the garden since there was no more room inside.  Then, last summer, I didn't have enough raised beds for all the veggies I wanted to plant.  Brett suggested moving the deer fence back, between the newer fruit trees and the stream.  There would be room for some more raised beds in the new area as well as including the fruit trees in the protected orchard.  How could I say no?  Normally, this is the kind of project that we would do with the help of Wwoofers, but since there aren't any due to COVID, and since Brett goes stir crazy without a project, he moved the fence back by himself.

We picked up some large water troughs to use as raised beds.  He drilled some holes in the bottom and put them in place.  I looked at them and thought, "It's going to cost me a small fortune in raised bed potting soil to fill those things."  

Then I had a flash of inspiration.  Hugelkultur.  I learned a little bit about this in my Master Gardener class, the demonstration gardens have one, and a fellow Master Gardener friend successfully used it for her raised beds last year.  I did some review, asked a few questions, and got to work.

Hugelkultur is method of creating a hill ("hugel") that mimics the decomposition that occurs on a forest floor.  The activity at the bottom of the pile creates nutrients as it breaks down, and it holds moisture really well.  The hills are most often free standing, but sides can be put in place.  And, what is a raised bed, really, other than a hill with sides?

First, I gathered downed twigs and small (less than 3 inch in diameter) limbs from around the ranch.  Brett took his tractor out to the back of the property and gathered there, while I picked up in the pastures.  We have had a fair amount of windy weather so there was a lot to choose from.  Pine is better than oak so I made those a priority although we have more oaks than pines on the ranch.  

I put a layer of twigs in the bottom of the troughs and stomped on them to break them up and provide a nice even base.  

Next came the limbs and then a layer of straw.  I stomped on it again and watered it well.  The straw snugged into the crevices between the limbs.  

The next layer was compost.  Brett brought it over with the tractor and dumped it.  While I was spreading, stomping and watering, he went and got the next load.  

At this point, the troughs were between 2/3 and 3/4 full.  The top layer will be potting soil.  The new raised beds will sit and mellow and settle for a few months until they are planted in the spring.  I’ll report back on how it goes.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Is it Spring or Winter?

 We are still waiting for winter to arrive with its wet, cold, sleety, slushy weather.  Instead, we have only had a bit more than 8” of rain this season (from last Oct 1st forward).  Typically, we have over 20” by now.  I worry about having an adequate snow pack in the Sierras; I worry about our well slowing or, worse, drying up; and I worry about fires next summer.  Other than that, the weather is glorious and begs me to be outside in the garden.

My Christmas gift from Brett was a new tool shed.  

The dogs had destroyed the cute, but flimsy, one we had purchased at a local nursery.  The dogs were after ground squirrels that were nesting under the tool shed and they ripped off the sides and the flooring in their pursuit.  Now I have a big, beautiful tool shed with a brick floor, shelves and peg board. 

 I definitely came out ahead on that one.

Brett has also been wanting to expand my garden by moving one of the fences down to the stream.  I will be able to fit some more planters in the new area and all the fruit trees will now be inside deer fencing.  Not that deer come onto the ranch very often with three dogs patrolling.  

Yes, three dogs.  Last November we added another Aussie to the mix.  Acorn is three months old now and enjoying ranch life.  

Sage is teaching him about his duties — barking at deer, chasing squirrels, digging for gophers and supervising us humans.  Kersey will be eleven this summer.  She watches from the front porch and only joins the others for meals (she’s a lab, she never misses a meal) and squirrels.  Sage is my constant companion in the garden.  Acorn tends to hang out with Brett — when he and Sage aren’t racing around.