Tuesday, January 15, 2013


So the new in thing is Learncations, I have learned.  I have got to be the nerdiest farmer in the world so just hearing the word, I already believe this is a totally awesome concept.  What could be more fun than going somewhere cool and learning something?  See, I told you I was a nerd.

But seriously!  Talk about more bang for your buck.  Isn't there something you want to learn?  Something you've just been dying to learn, but it's not quite important enough to schedule time for because you have so much else to do?  Like learning to crochet or train a killer whale or be a trapeze artist?  Okay, I don't really want to do the trapeze thing, but training a killer whale would be mind-blowing (see the pun there? whale...blowing-ok forget it).

Except I would probably get eaten by a killer whale, so maybe I'd just learn crocheting.

That penguin would be me

If I was going to take a learncation, I would probably actually go to another farm to see what the competition is doing and try to learn how to do it so I could offer it to guests because I am a total capitalist.  But seriously, what a great concept.  People today are obsessed with learning.  And with good reason.  Afterall, you can't even get a job at McDonald's anymore without a college degree.
I got my doctorate and became a farmer.  Glad I didn't stop at a bachelor's.
Plus, learning is so much fun when you're not learning for an exam or learning for work.  You're just learning for fun's sake.  And a learncation means you're learning someplace cool, someplace new.  I mean seriously, think of all the cool places you could learn underwater basket weaving?

We want to make our farmstay into a real learncation.  So many other guest ranches and similar vacation places have the stupidest activities like tye-dying shirts.  Really?  What does that have to do with farming?
Okay well maybe if you tye-dye your chickens
We want people to REALLY learn what farm life is really like.

Minus the excruciatingly hard work, long hours and freaking out about paying the bills as the food nazis try to shut you down at gun point

We want to preserve farming as a way of life and try to encourage others into farming.  What better way than to do it in the form of a learncation?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

What do horses and farms have in common?

A wonderful fan asked me why I keep mentioning horses in a blog about farming.  Well first off, this is a blog about my family farm and we have horses.  Good enough for me.  However, horses and farms go together like peanut butter and jelly.  Horses were the original John Deere.  As a matter of fact, I want to get a draft horse and name him John Deere.  Wouldn't that be hilarious?  Horses plowed and cultivated and turned the hay and baled it...and then ate it too.

Horses worked the farms from the beginning of time until about the 1950s when most farmers finally abandoned horses for the faster and more powerful tractors.  During the 20s to 50s, there was a huge debate over which was more economic-tractors or horses and mules (a good recent book on the subject is Mule South To Tractor South, by George B. Ellenberg, Univ. of Alabama Press, 2007).  The experts never actually agreed on which was better, but tractors were new and cutting edge and society was rebelling from what was traditional-yes, even farmers had a hippy movement.

The younger farmers wanted tractors and they were go to use them no matter how much more they cost than horses.  Horses were sent off to the butcher and not because tractors meant less work, but really because horse-based farmers were afraid they wouldn't be able to compete.  The government did a whizbang job of convincing everyone that tractors were necessary.  So farming changed.  Hedges that preserved valuable flora and fauna had to be pulled out to accommodate big tractors, a problem the government is now trying to fix as it's leading to extinction and pest problems.  Pest problems caused an increase in the use of pesticides, farmers had to learn to be mechanics, the death rate skyrocketed with the use of heavy machinery, and the problems and inefficiencies go on and on.

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm a horse owner and there is pros and cons to everything.  Tractors can definitely do WAY more work in a day than a horse and farmers don't come home nearly as tired.  Horses run away sometimes when scared and tractors don't (although they can certainly run away and do from handler error).  The biggest con about horse farming is you can't make as much money.  Right?  I mean isn't that true?


According to a research study done, amish farms are one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. farm community.  The study cites tons of research proving that small, diversified Amish farms, using traditional farming methods and draft horses, or mules, as a major power source, are surprisingly successful, sustainable, and profitable.

Consider what one blogger wrote:

Amish farmers are buying farm land that can cost them ten thousand dollars per acre or sometimes more, and paying for it with horse farming. And because of their religion, the Amish do not accept farm subsidies that keep many “modern” farms “profitable.” Facing these facts, it is very difficult to see how economists or agribusiness experts can claim that farms using horses or mules for motive power are any more backward, or any less profitable, than farms using tractors.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Are mulberry leaves poisonous?

I posted in a previous blog that mulberry leaves are poisonous, but when challenged by one of my readers I decided I needed to research this subject.  I'd always been told that dried mulberry leaves were poisonous.  Although I've never had any problems with my livestock, they refuse to eat dry mulberry leaves so I had no proof either way.

Mulberry: an exceptional forage available almost worldwide! states that the leaf mineral content is high and no anti-nutritional factors or toxic compounds have been identified.

Mulberry leaves as sheep feed supplement discusses a study that was done to figure out the nutritional content of mulberry leaves.  In this study, they dried the mulberry leaves and then fed them to sheep.

So it looks like mulberry leaves are perfectly safe even when dry!  On top of all this, the leaves are full of protein and rich in nitrogen, sulphur and minerals.  Mulberry leaves caused increased body weight gains in growing lambs and goats, and also included milk production in goats.  Some authors even say that mulberry leaves are as good as alfalfa and other high quality forage.  Therefore, my conclusion is mulberry leaves are not poisonous.  Instead, they make excellent feed fresh or dry!!

Mulberry Tree Cuttings

I wrangled Farmer Thomas into helping me make some tree cuttings today.  Afterall, what are brother-in-laws for?

 Cuttings are branches of a plant, in this case a mulberry tree, that you use to propagate another plant from.  You can cut the branches with or without leaves.  We needed to prune our mulberries anyways and there's less work that needs to be done in the winter, so we decided to do winter pruned branches.

You don't need to use rooting hormone.  Mulberries have a great success rate without the hormone, but if you are a bit paranoid (especially when doing as many cuttings as we did), then feel free to use it.  

Poor Thomas had to pickaxe his way through the soil so we could plant.  Luckily it wasn't frozen.


Some of the visitors to our farm helped us cut the branches into two foot sections (see how many we did!).

We dipped the end of the branch in rooting hormone, making sure at least one node got covered.  A node is the little bump that the new branches come from.  When these are underground, they form roots instead of branches.  Make sure at least 2 or 3 nodes get buried underground.

We planted them in lowered beds to make it easier to get water to them (we're in the desert remember).  The sticks were planted about a foot apart diagonally in a 1 2 1 2 pattern like this  -=-=-=-=-=-  Hopefully they'll all grow and then we'll dig them out and transplant them in various spots around the property and we will soon have the shadiest farm in the desert!  Plus mulberry leaves are very nutritious for livestock as the trees collect minerals from the ground and deposit them in the leaves.  Just remember that when mulberry leaves die, they become poisonous  (Looks like I am wrong about this.  I've always been told they were poisonous, but please read this blog post about how wonderful th leaves are even when they are dry!). We've never had an animal-even the goats- try to eat dead leaves as the poison makes them bitter, but keep it in mind.  You can also get fruiting mulberries which are yummy, but can be messy.  We have fruiting mulberries planted over the poultry areas so the birds will eat them when they fall off the tree.  Have fun planting!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Seriously good banana muffins

These muffins were REALLY good.  My family forces me to keep baking them and they're really easy too.


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease 10 muffin cups, or line with muffin papers.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat together bananas, sugar, egg and melted butter. Stir the banana mixture into the flour mixture just until moistened. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, 2 tablespoons flour and cinnamon. Cut in 1 tablespoon butter until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle topping over muffins.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.
Let me know if you try the recipe!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Learn to prune fruit trees


Presented To Residents
Flip Flop Ranch & Heavenly Growers
Presenter:  Ruth Mayoral

When:   January 19, 2013 10am until whenever!
Where:  Flip Flop Ranch, 9522 Donaldson Rd.
                   Lucerne Valley, CA
Cost:   $10.00  (Covers workshop/supplies and helps ensure
                                             Future needed workshop subjects)                  
To Sign Up:  Call us, (760) 247-5083
                        E-mail us,  heavenlygrowers@gmail.com

You may bring any pruning tools you have, so
that you are comfortable with your pruning tools.

     We are excited about this Pruning Workshop, since many residents have a need for this information.  We are pleased to share this knowledge and hands on experience with you. The workshop is open to the first 30 people to sign up. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

What we need most...an identity

A recent visitor to the farm asked me an excellent question today on the phone.  "What do you need most?"  I was stumped.  So many things flooded into my brain that I couldn't think of any one thing to say.  We need some wheelbarrows, shovels, rakes and other tools.  We need feed.  We need apple trees because we want to start an orchard.  We definitely need to find someone to refinance our hay farm.  We need fencing and irrigation supplies.  We need seeds.  We need paint.  We need, need, need, need, need.  On a farm, you need so many many many things that it's hard to narrow it down to anything!

So I've been thinking about it all evening.  What do we really need?  And I thought, we need an identity.  One of the problems of diversified farming is that you become so diversified you don't specialize in anything.  We raise chickens, geese, pigs, goats, ducks, guineas, turkeys, cows and probably more that I'm not even thinking of right now.  And this is on top of our jobs off the farm.  It's overwhelming just thinking about it all.

Business have to grow up just like people and often have an identity crisis-experimenting with different products and services until they find what works for them
Any good business knows that it can't do everything.  If you try to do everything with your business, it will fail.  A good business has a niche.  So I've been thinking, what's our niche?  Endangered livestock and heirloom vegetables.  When we first started, we focused on our Cotton Patch geese.  That was our big thing.  That was what made us different.  Then we kept adding and adding.  I thought back to when we were first getting going.  We had our geese and we also had melons.  I haven't raised melons in a couple years now because I've been so busy raising everything else.

I think we really need to get back to our original love-geese and melons.  That's not to say that we can't still have chickens or cows, etc.  But we need to focus or it becomes too overwhelming.  And business-wise, customers get overwhelmed too.  If you're known for everything then you become known for nothing.  You can't excel at everything, but you can excel at a few things.  And when you excel, customers come running.  This is the importance of an identity in business and in life.

If you're still trying to find a niche, Joel Salatin offers the suggestion to grow what you like to eat.  If you wouldn't eat it, then you probably shouldn't grow it and you certainly shouldn't specialize in it.  I love melons.  My family loves melons.  And we all adore the geese (plus they taste great).

It's so easy to get carried away, especially when customers request this product and that product.  Our family is going to need to sit down and talk about what exactly we want to specialize in.  Is it melons and geese?  Is it apple trees?  We love apples too (see how quickly we can start getting off track again?).  Should we have a few specialities for different parts of the year?  Geese in the winter and spring, melons in the fall?  Vacation in Europe during the summer?  Well, maybe not that last one, but I can always hope.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Refinancing the farm

Getting the land to farm-or holding onto it-is one of the hardest things for a farmer.  Land is so expensive and it seems like everything is against you.  Banks won't give you loans, or refinance your property, such as in our case.

We currently have a 100 acre piece of farm land in need of refinancing.  If any blog fans are in a financial position to do this, we'd seriously like to talk.

Even in the best of financial times, it is extremely difficult to purchase or refinance farm land.  Lenders like small pieces of property with a home on it.  It's easier to resell than a big hay farm.  There are lenders who specialize in agricultural land, but in this economy nobody is willing to help anyone but the biggest, most financially successful farmers and that excludes just about all the farmers out there.  Most farmers are small and struggling.  Now in our case, we aren't struggling because two of us have really good off the farm jobs.  A refinance would actually lower our monthly payment and the lenders still aren't willing to bite because it's too much of a risk.  Huh?  Seems like a lower monthly payment would lower the risk *scratching my head.*  Guess that's why I'm not a banker.

Anyhow, if you're looking for a sound investment and you want to help a farmer out then send us a note! FlipFlopRanch@gmail.com

For a would-be farmer, the best course of action to get land is connecting with an older farmer.  Many farmer's children are not interested in farming the land after dad and mom retire and there's a good possibility that you, even though you're not family, can farm for them and eventually purchase it at dirt cheap (pun intended).  Sometimes farmers even will their land to their younger farm partner.  Farm Link, or in our state California Farm Link, helps to bring together the older farming generation with the younger farming generation in order to help young people get access to land.

If there's any young farmers out there interested in farming and in need of land, talk to us about this too!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Farm women and depression

Farm woman during the great depression
Too many responsibilities, environmental and social influences, and stressors place farm women at high risk for depressive symptoms (link to research article).  When guests come to our farm, they often are jealous of the slower paced, stress free lifestyle that we live.  You're so lucky!  They tell us.  We wish we could live a life like this.  Of course as soon as you ask them if they want to join in chopping wood or butchering, they often decline in order to take a nap while you go do the chore. And good for them, that's what a relaxing visit is supposed to be, but unfortunately that's not what farm life is lol!!

Farming is actually one of the most dangerous occupations in the world-more dangerous than a police officer or a pilot.  Women seem to be at a much higher risk of depression in the farming world as they try to juggle all the roles of mother, wife, farmer, marketer, accountant, risk manager, and so on that are required by farm life.  Farms also tend to be isolated and the social relationships that one has in city life is cut down to sometimes nobody.  This is one of the reasons we decided to start a guest ranch.  We were sick of never having people over.  We've also put more effort into fostering relationships with our neighbors.  Women also tend to take on more and more of the responsibilities on the farm so that their men (husbands/sons) can have off the farm jobs and make more money.  This can lead to increase in fatigue and isolation.

Financial stress is probably one of the biggest predictors of depression in farm women (well, anyone really).  And boy is there a lot of financial stress in farming.  Unlike other product production, you can't force your chickens to lay eggs or your geese to hatch or your cows to put on weight.  You can't force your crops to grow.  And the time it takes to farm makes it super difficult to have enough time to find customers for when everything actually is working (and that never happens-at least not everything at the same time, there's always SOMETHING going wrong on a farm).  Then when you do have customers, they often balk at paying the price of your product because everyone is so used to purchasing food that is subsidized by the federal government and is being sold at below the cost of producing it.  Sigh....not that I'm depressed or anything.

But seriously, it's hard to live on a farm.  It's wonderful too, but if you want to farm then you need to look at the realities of farm life and you need to really plan on how to deal with the stresses that are there.  How are you going to keep yourself from being lonely?  How are you going to keep from being overwhelmed with all your responsibilities?  How are you going to keep from stressing over the fact that your ten year old is driving a tractor that is responsible for farmer deaths all over the country?  You can't be a helicopter parent when you're raising a farm kid.  Living on a farm can be the most wonderful or the most horrible thing in the world.  It all depends on how you look at it.