Scary Night

Last night while Paul and I were eating dinner and watching just one more episode of Battlestar Galactica, we heard a horrible sound.  Over the TV, from outside, somewhere deep in the forest down towards the creek, came a sound like a child’s scream.  I immediately ran to the window and signaled Paul to turn down the volume.  I heard it again, only this time it sounded like a cat screaming. Not like a cat fight, but like a cat being attacked and killed by another animal.  It was utterly chilling.

We both ran outside, and my heart was racing as I thought, “Junebug, Junebug, Junebug.”

Junebug has been with me for about 10 months now.  I got her from a rescue in town.  I’ve had Lola for more than 6 years, and although I’m an all around animal lover, I had started to feel that maybe I had become a ‘dog person.’  But when I moved back to the dome, the place was literally crawling with mice.  I mean it was gross.  They had infested the walls, treated the pantry like a grocery store, and made the house smell musty and unclean.  Lola is absolutely no good at hunting anything.  So I had to get a cat.

I held back for a month or two.  I was nervous about adding another pet to little world Lola and I had together.  I felt sad and somehow disloyal for the fact that this new creature would outlive Lola, as though I was replacing her already.  I know that is slightly ridiculous, but that’s how I felt.

Anyway, when a mouse brazenly walked (and I mean walked, strolled, not scurried) across the kitchen floor one night, I realized it just had to be done.  I went out to get a kitty.

There were lots of adorable kittens at the rescue, and some charming adult cats too.  I was trying to find a cat that would stand up to Lola, but not be afraid of her.  I wanted a hunter obviously, and a shorthair.  Other than that I had no preconceived notion of what this kitty would be like.  I think I met every single kitty there, mostly at the urging of the rescue volunteer who was helping me. “What about this one? This one is one of my favorites,” etc.  On and on. As we walked back and forth through the room and past the cages, one older kitten, a shorthair seal grey with funny tortoise shell markings kept reaching through the bars of her cage at me, meowing and flirting, trying to get my attention.  I politely followed the volunteer and met each cat she presented to me, but finally I had to ask, “What about that one?”  “Oh,” she said, “Yes, she’s been here a long time now. She is a little wild so we don’t recommend her to be around children.”  “Okay…” I said, “Well I don’t have any children. Can I meet her?” The volunteer agreed, but seemed disappointed, as she had clearly been hoping I would adopt another kitty she particularly liked.

When I picked up the cat who was to become my Junebug, the first thing she did was grab onto my face with her paws and start licking me. She wouldn’t let me go. And that was it. She was clearly my kitty. Even the volunteer was resigned.  “Well there you go,” she said. “I guess she’s yours.”

Junebug is a little wild, but she is the perfect cat for the ranch.  She loves Lola, follows her everywhere, loves to wrestle with her, and in quiet moments will sit and lick her face, holding on like she did to me that first day.  She and Lola are my constant companions when I am out doing things on the ranch.  She is a real talker, but she still has a tiny kitten meow than just melts your heart. I thought I was a dog person, but I totally and completely love this cat. Oh, and she is a great mouser, and lizarder, and birder, and even batter.

So last night, when I thought for sure I had just heard her last, terrified moments, I felt gutted.  By the time I got outside and down the path with my flashlight, the forest was quiet.  Whatever had happened, I hadn’t made it in time to stop it.  I was crying and shaking.  My little Bug.  Eventually Paul and I had to turn and go back to the house.  We weren’t going to find anything in the huge forest in the dark of night.

And, as I turned the flashlight back toward the house, I saw her.  Perfectly intact, unharmed, maybe a little freaked out, but obviously not because she had been the cat who made that scream. More likely because she had also heard it.  You cannot imagine my relief.  Oh man.

So, today’s post is dedicated to the magnificent Junebug, who did not meet her end last night. Please be careful out there, kitty.  I don’t know what I would do without you.


photo by Wayne Olts


Today was another busy day, with lots of chores to get done.  This morning I checked on the bees and put the second hive body on top.  They hadn’t built out the outer combs yet, so I’m going to keep feeding them the syrup.  The hive was positively crammed with bees though, and they are bringing back huge amounts of pollen right now which means they are raising brood and doing well.

Another really important task for today was fixing a broken irrigation pipe before the irrigation gets turned on for the year.  Things dry out fast around here, and I would be pretty bummed if I couldn’t get the water going because of that busted pipe. I’d watched my dad do this stuff a zillion times, but this was the first time I did it all by myself.


The arrow shows where I had to replace a fitting and reconnect the pipes.  Not terribly glamorous, but I feel very pleased with myself.  It took a lot of careful digging to reveal the break without doing any more damage. Once I got that done, the rest was pretty easy.

While I was out there I noticed that seemingly overnight, the spent blossoms on the peach tree had turned into tiny peaches. And it’s absolutely covered! (sorry for the blurry photo)


I am thrilled that the peach tree is doing so well.  It makes the most delicious little peaches, but the year before last I gave the tree a major pruning and it’s taken until now to recover.  Whew!

My new honeycrisp apple tree is doing fantastic, which is also a relief because I bought it this winter as bareroot and I have to tell you, it was looking like a sad little stick in the ground for a long time.  I thought maybe it wasn’t going to make it. But it looks gorgeous, and is even going to bloom.


Finally, here’s a cute picture of Fauna the chicken and Diego the goat.


I learned a funny thing about Fauna this weekend: She likes to be held. She actually likes to be held so much that she will try to jump into your arms while you’re standing.  Even funnier, since Diego thinks he’s a lap goat, he jumped into my lap this morning when I went out to see them, and Fauna jumped right up too, so I was holding a big old chicken and a little baby goat in my arms at the same time. I wish I could have gotten a picture, I’m sure it looked hilarious.  Fauna has an upper respiratory infection right now, and we’re hoping it’s not actually a sign that she has cancer in her crop. I don’t know her age, so it’s possible that she is quite an old hen, in which case cancer isn’t too unusual. Sad! I’m starting her on antibiotics asap to see if that will clear up her infection, and maybe she’ll get better.  I hope she does!

Once again, I find myself in desperate need for a shower.  Time to go put the goatyboys to bed, and then I can get myself clean!

Dirt Day, Part 2

Sooo tired. Sadly these pictures really don’t fully convey the amount of work Paul and I did today. I need a better camera. Anyway, here they are:

First off, here is the really awesome tool I found in the shed which I used to drill drain holes in the bottoms of the wine barrel planters. Is that steam punk or what?


Here’s one of my wine barrel planters before weedeating. You can’t even see the raised bed next to it:


Here’s how it looked after weeding and new soil put in.

And here are the raised beds, after major weeding and putting fresh new soil in.


Ok, that’s it for today. I’m going to take a shower and go into town to have a glass of wine with my friend Megan.

Tomorrow I will plant the tomato seedlings and do some bee work.

Dirt Day

Today is finally dirt day.  I have been planning for months to go get a load of dirt from Rare Earth (a wonderful place in town that makes a whole line of different kinds of compost and soils), but every time I’d get set to go, it would rain. No point in getting a load of mud. Around here, the native soil is pretty much just red clay and rocks. I haven’t been studious or diligent on making a good working compost pile, so I have to import good dirt to grow my garden in.  Last year I brought in a yard (enough to fill up the back of my pickup) just to fill one new herb bed I built in the front of the house.


I fudged it in the veggie garden with several sacks of compost and chicken manure, but this year I want all new soil in the raised beds and containers, because I want my garden to really feed me and not just be a hobby garden.  That means high production for limited space.  That means good dirt.

So today is dirt day. Here are a couple of before pictures. I hope to have some great afters later!

Here is the insanely overgrown garden plot. Can you even tell there are raised beds under there?


Here it is after some weedeating (so much more to do!).


Who I Talk About When I Talk About ‘Us.’

Yes, I am a single girl, but I’m not a lonely girl. I have an amazing community of people around me all the time at the ranch.  We all have our own schedules and obligations, but we do come together quite a lot.  When I say ‘us’ or ‘we’ in this blog, I’m usually referring to this core group of people.

First off, there’s my roommate, Paul. He made us fantastic pizza from scratch last night:


He’s getting his PhD in history from UC Santa Barbara, and he’s up here to write his dissertation in the peace and quiet. And normally it is peaceful and quiet, although sometimes we find ourselves getting up to no good (generally because of whiskey and old vinyl records).

Then there are my neighbors, who are more like family, really. I’ve known them my entire life.

In fact, allow me to share with you one of the greatest photos ever taken.  Here is my dad, my godfather (and neighbor) Wayne, and my ‘uncle’ Larry (also my neighbor) when they were building my house way back when before I was born.


I mean, right? Best picture EVER (eat your heart out, Instagram!).

Then there’s Gina, who has already been in the blog. She’s married to Larry, and is my partner in goat husbandry.  Here she is holding Diego:


And there are other ranch folk, who are here in spirit even when they aren’t always here in body: my bestie sister Erin, my dad and his wife Betsy, my oldest friend Megan, and many other wonderful friends.  They will pop up in stories and pictures for sure.

Oh, and we can’t forget Lola and Junebug, the rescued dog and kitty A-Team:


So that’s the crew. Shout out to the crew!

Tick Patrol

Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather reporting for duty!


Did I mention we have a tick problem? The goat-boys have been covered with them. They don’t seem to be biting, but the boys love to climb all over us, which means the ticks are soon climbing all over us too. Disgusting. Must be stopped.

I took to the interwebs to find a solution. We cannot be the only people with this problem. As you know, seeking advice from the interwebs always involves sifting through a lot of crackpots and garbage, but if you look long enough, eventually a consensus will start to form. The tick issue was no different. Lots of people with home remedies, scary ideas (cover your dairy goat in poison!), and even the hopeless souls proclaiming there is no answer. But a lot of people suggested a simple, harmless, and in my case, totally doable solution: let your chickens in the goat pen and they will eat the ticks.

Yes! I wanted to do this anyway. My poor girls have been cooped up (literally) all winter in a tiny run and henhouse. We had an incident in the fall with first a bobcat and then a neighbor’s dog, and our little flock was reduced from 5 to 3. Actually 5 to 1, and then we brought in some replacements.

An aside about the chickens: They are actually rescued chickens. We have a Buff Orpington (Flora), a Barred Rock (Fauna) and an Ameraucana (Merriweather). We got them from an organic farm outside Sacramento that was purging their flock. Most of them were destined for the soup pot, so we took a few. I have no idea how old they are, and only Flora and Merriweather actually lay eggs, but they are our girls and we love them.

We’re planning a major run-expansion and then we’ll get more hens. I’m a little stumped on what breeds to add. Usually mixed flocks don’t do so well – they can start to gang up on each other. Our girls get along great, but then, there’s no majority rule.  So maybe I should get three more of three different breeds? Any advice on that score?

The New Routine


This morning the reality of my new routine sunk in. It feels OK – great even, but I definitely had that moment of recognition like, ‘Oh, right, this is my life now.’

We’re having a late spring rainstorm.  Significant rains this late in April aren’t typical around here, but I’m finding it luxurious.  It’s actually humid.  The world outside is heavy, fecund, abundant.  Everything is green, overgrown, garlanded with flowers, like the forest is throwing itself a wild party.  It’s just a moment, a blip, because when summer comes, it will turn dry-brown and dusty.  I truly madly love our summers, but they aren’t like this.


But, back to the routine.  The heavy skies made it darker than normal this morning, and when Junebug crawled into bed with Lola and me after her night of hunting, her little warm furry body lulled me right back to sleep. Instead of getting up at my normal 6:30, I slept until nearly 8!  When I did wake up, I instantly realized I had obligations that went far beyond my normal coffee and shower and chicken-check on the way to the office.  I had to let the goat-boys out of the barn – they’re used to being let out before 7.  But even more urgent, it’s raining, the bees need to be fed! (Note: I also have a horse, but I’m lucky because he’s boarded next door, so feeding him in the morning is not among my chores.)

Feeding the bees is not hard.  Right now they just need a syrup solution of 50% water, 50% sugar, which goes in a mason jar and then screwed onto a special bee feeder.  Normally a healthy colony wouldn’t need to be fed during a couple of days of a spring rain, but this is a new colony.  If they’ve been doing their jobs, they are working hard building up comb on the empty frames in addition to their normal jobs of gathering nectar, pollen, and raising brood.  So a couple of days without foraging at this crucial time could potentially weaken the colony enough to kill it down the line if they get hit by parasites or other disease.  I’m just learning all this stuff myself.  Maybe a more pro beekeeper wouldn’t be as worried, given that we are in the middle of an enormous honeyflow (i.e. tons of blooming flowers) but I’m sticking to the rules pretty closely.


Anyhow, it was up and at ’em, on with the work boots, the veil and a jar of syrup in my hand.  I tromped down to the hive, enjoying the warm rain, with Lola and Junebug (she thinks she’s a dog) romping beside me.  The bees were sluggish and ready for some food.  I moved slowly, knowing they can be more defensive in inclement weather, but did not use any smoke.  I actually haven’t smoked my bees once since getting them, although I will when I add the second hive body, as I will have to open the cover to place the new hive body on top, which will no doubt get them excited.

Once the bees were fed it was time to let the goats out.  (Did someone say “Who let the goats out”? Sorry…) They were all snuggled up on their palette covered with soft straw and wood shavings.  They were happy to see me, but after checking their hay and refilling their water I had to move on.  No time for cuddles.  There were eggs to gather, kitchen scraps to deliver, and crumble to refill.  No point in giving the hens their usual bushel of vetch and scratch grains as the run is completely muddy.  Now that we have a secure – and importantly, dog proof – goat pen, I will be letting the hens into the goat yard on fine days so they can range.  But unfortunately, we have neighbor dogs who have mauled my hens in the past, and I can’t let them be totally free range. I’m already down to just three girls after having 5 at one time.

Then it was back to the house, for a quick breakfast of brown bread with cream cheese and cucumber slices (YUM) and another cup of coffee before heading upstairs to finish the final edits on the brief that’s due today.  Got to get this thing in the overnight mail otherwise I won’t make my deadline.

So, yeah, this is my life now. Right on.