Hi! I’m Deanna, but a lot of you may know me as DeannaCat. I am all about simple living, growing (and eating!) plants, and tending to my family and ecosystem the best I can. My hope is to inspire a love for a similar lifestyle or hobbies in others, by sharing real-life tips and tools to make “modern homesteading” activities easy, relatable, and enjoyable ~ so you can learn and dive in with me!
It’s always a bit awkward to talk about yourself, but I suppose it’s good to open up and share some things with you, to give you a better idea about my background, passions, and where I am coming from with all this.
So hey! I’m the face behind this blog, a garden mentor to many over on Instagram, and also work full-time as an Environmental Health Specialist. In my personal life, I am the wife and best friend to Aaron, a part-time monarch butterfly doula, and mama to 3 kitties, four chickens, 37 houseplants, 300 outdoor plants, and a bin full of worms. Yes, I have my hands full – but also have a very full heart!
When I’m not busy in the garden (or writing about gardening), you can likely find me in the kitchen, cuddling with the kitties, walking on the beach, or doing yoga ~ preferably in the patio garden on a sunny day. It probably isn’t surprising to hear that I am a Cancer and total homebody. And for the record, everything is better with music. (You can listen to our favorite tunes here!)
If you catch glimpses of a smiling, dark, handsome man here and there – that’d be Aaron. For the record, he may seem “behind-the-scenes” here, but is an immense contributor (maybe even more than myself!) to the care for this homestead, plants, and animals! He also assists with photo shoots, proof-reading, idea-bouncing, and all sorts of other helpful contributions that I am beyond grateful for. We are a team.
So, how’d we end up here – doing this whole gardening, mini-homesteading and blogging thing? I guess it boils down to this:
Back in 2013, a friend of mine told me I should get on Instagram. “You’ll love it, it’s pretty much just pictures!” she said. See, I have always loved photography. As a little girl, I had to save up my allowance to develop rolls of film because my mom got so overwhelmed at the amount of photos I was taking! Long before the days of smartphones, I was always “the friend with the camera” – ready to capture the beauty and memories of any moment.
I started sharing photos of what was happening in our life on Instagram, which was (and still is) mostly gardening and homestead projects, with a little bit of food and cats mixed in. Through Insta, I began connecting with like-minded folks – and also started getting a lot of questions about our projects and lifestyle, which I really loved! So I started doling out answers and explanations, and quite detailed ones at that. In addition to sharing images, this new outlet for information-sharing was totally jiving with a huge part of me that felt “missing” at the time.
Back in college, I was really involved on campus and led several environmental and sustainability-related campaigns. I was always out there – trying to engage people in conversation, connect, share ideas, and even maybe teach folks a thing or two. In case you’re wondering, I have my B.S. in Sustainable Coordination and Resource Management from CSU, Chico and a Master’s in Environmental Studies from Brown University. After leaving college and jumping into “the real world”, I felt a huge disconnect from the exciting, progressive, and creative energy I was so accustomed to. So I poured it into our yard, home, and Instagram instead. They became my outlet. My means of outreach had to shift drastically from in-person to internet-based (including starting a blog, because there is only so much you can convey on Insta) – but hey, that’s okay! That is why I am here now. And I am SO glad you are too!
Speaking of college, that is when I started my first garden. Back in 2007, I plunked down my first little raised garden beds (and worm compost bin) in the side yard of my tiny Chico rental cottage at the time. Since we were moving around a lot then, we kept it small and manageable: just a few tomato and squash plants.
Then when we moved into an apartment in Providence, Rhode Island, we weren’t able to garden much at all. Not only because of the living situation, but more so because I was busy working on my thesis. To get a break from my studies, I picked up the book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver (highly recommended!). It was then that the light bulbs for our future really started to go off in my head. I felt so inspired by the idea of not only growing vegetables, fruits, and herbs, but also raising chickens, preserving food, sacrificing non-essentials, and truly living and eating with the seasons. After reading that book, I decided I wanted to do more than casually garden – and dreamed of creating a mini homestead one day.
When I finished grad school we moved back across the country to California, landed jobs that brought us to the amazing Central Coast that we now call home, and began saving to buy a home. We purchased this property in 2013, and started our first flock of baby chicks in 2014. Project-by-project and year-by-year (remember, these things don’t happen overnight, and that is totally okay!), we have been slowly transforming it to make our urban homesteading dreams come true. We hope to move to a larger property one day, but are making damn good use of every square inch of this place in the meantime! To read more details about our homestead, click here.
How did I get interested in gardening and sustainable living in the first place? I get asked this question a lot, so I am going to jump back even further in time for a moment. This is going to get more personal here, but bear with me… it’s relevant.
My history with healthy eating and fear of toxins runs deep. Growing up, my mom was a dental hygienist, so processed sugar and many snack foods were a big no-no and a rarity in our house. She switched gears and became a registered dietitian/nutritionist while I was in late elementary school. So we started to look at everything we ate a little more closely, not just sugar. Then one day in early high school, my pancreas decided to quit on the job. Suddenly, on a genetic fluke, I became Type 1 Diabetic. Talk about putting everything I ate under the microscope! While my friends were spending their lunch breaks cruising around getting fast food, I was bringing sack lunches and counting carbs.
Flash forward 6 years. I lost my dad to aggressive kidney cancer when I was only 21. It was absolutely devastating. I was and always will be a Daddy’s girl. Who knows exactly how and why cancer decides to rear its ugly f***ing head, yet I can’t help but substantially blame his enthusiastic love affair with meat, butter, Ben and Jerry’s, and processed foods, along with the medications used to mask the symptoms of the issues that those all caused. See, my parents were no longer together by then, so they ate very differently in their households. When he passed away, I was already at a crossroads in college, considering studying nursing or physical therapy but not sure what direction I wanted to go.
Losing him made me take a serious step back to process what happened and reevaluate what was important to me. I quit my part time job at a local gym and started crafting as therapy. It was then that I started my journey with sustainability and healthier, natural living. Within the following year I changed my major, got a sustainability coordinator position at the university, started selling up-cycled crafts and photography at our local farmers market, became a vegetarian, and started my first garden. Oh yeah, and got dreadlocks.
Sounds a bit like a quarter-life crisis, right?! But it wasn’t a temporary dance with insanity. It was the start of my purpose. Over the years since this interest bloomed into a passion and into a lifestyle that I will never go back from. Don’t get me wrong, we are far from perfect over here. We by no means lead a fully self-sufficient or zero waste life, but we try our best! We aren’t fault-free with our diets either – we all have our vices! Mine happen to be good craft beer, organic kettle chips, and dark chocolate.
So, here we are!
All of the above naturally leads me to this – creating a blog about the things that light my fire, and I hope will light yours too! To me, this space is so much more than “just a blog” ~ it is my creative and artistic outlet, my motivator to keep learning and doing, and a way to connect with you, share, and hopefully inspire. I want to help people live healthier, happier lives, in whatever way I can. I also want you to know that I am not here to preach, and never to judge! You do you. No matter your level of knowledge, interest, or involvement in a similar lifestyle, you’re welcome here. Good vibes only.
In loving memory and dedication to my Dad, because I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am today without him. I know he would be so proud of both.
I’m not much for words but your story touched me and I am so grateful the world has people like you in it. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and skills with us! You are awesome!
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Thank you so much for the kind words Garrett, we appreciate your support!
I love your story so much!! Thank you so much for sharing!! I feel like the beginnings of your journey are where I currently am now. I’m 31 and am just barely getting into seriously planning a homestead. Just got our first chicks and am making plans for our garden this spring. So thank you so much for sharing your passion and helping me feel more motivated! I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog to help me along❤️
Nancy A Bartlett
Hello I grew my turmeric for the first year following these directions. The rhizomes are not very big probably half the size of what is posted here. Any suggestions for next year?
I’m thinking I planted them too close together, any other suggestions?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Nancy, rhizome spacing can have something to do with a smaller harvest, also be sure your soil stays fairly moist throughout the growing cycle (not too dry but not too wet either) and we typically fertilize the turmeric once a month with slow release organic amendments. Our turmeric harvest this year is going to be fairly small compared to past years and I am sure it is because our watering schedule wasn’t on par with previous years. You can usually tell how well the rhizomes are doing by how large and lush the greens are that are above the soil. Hope that helps and hopefully next years harvest is bigger and better!
Hello , My name is Joseph < 78 yrs ,an avid gardener , growing vegies since was 6 yrs , live in ttexas ,hot humid this year was disasterous desiese 100 plus every day 3 months, I do French intensive method of farming grow in 3 ft by 18 ft boxes on the ground no bottom , I grow 90% heirloom from seed , My peppers are from a great source chiliplants.com. shipped to me ,live in a motor home on a 3000 sq ft lot with my Dalmation Barlee Rose , she loves string beans , my seed comes from BakersCreekSeedco. and Victory seed , live on a river and lake so fishing is a must as well then cooking canning ,Prayer, wine eating great food , I only use email , dont do all that other stuff , grew fo nurseries and a French reaturant in the 90s to raise monies for my daughters school and sports dance volleyball n soccer , I was a Mr. MOM n Dad, thank you for reading this note. happy to get to know yall , maybe share some tips on gardening fishing cooking , " PeaceBeWithYou "
Joseph, What interesting information about growing. I have never heard about the French intensive method so will definitely look into that. I love Baker Creek but have never heard of chiliplants.com. Thanks for that.
Joseph, you sound lovely. Just like my Dad and what he did when I was a kid.
I loved reading your note. Thanks for posting
Thank you SO much for your monarch insights, tips, ideas, phtos(!!!) , and details! Just released 3 very healthy monarchs 2females, 1male and hoping they have a smooth voyage to the southern sun! 3 more are waiting to emerge later this week. Without your blog I would have missed some really inspiring moments. Thanks so much for you being you!
I just watched your video on YouTube about building raised bed boxes. I do not have redwood/cedar availability where I live. Can you suggest another wood? You mentioned a non toxic food grade sealant that you used in your boxes. How can I find out more about that? Would you use that sealant with all types of wood?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Dana, check out our articles on Choosing the Best Materials for Raised Garden Beds, the Birdies garden beds we have linked may be a good option for you. Also, our article on 7 Ways To Make Wood Garden Beds Last: Nontoxic Sealer & More includes the non toxic sealer in one of the seven ways. I don’t know what wood types are available to you but it is best to go with types that are most rot/pest resistant. Hope that helps and good luck!
Can the fermented nettle leaves after straining the tea be put in the worm bin?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Diana, yes you can although be cautious if the nettle contained any seeds as you may bet quite a few nettle sprouting in your worm bin afterwards. Hope that helps and good luck!
Not sure where you are located but in the southern regions, “black soldier flies” are an amazing resource. They even break down meat scraps and fat which are bad for earthworms BUT their excrement is digestible to earthworms, SO it is a win/win situation. Black soldier fly eggs are available online. Even though that they can not survive in colder climates they can be reintroduced each spring. It may be possible to overwinter the eggs or larva in an enviornment above freeezing and below 70 dgreees F. One especially attractent is “deer corn”. I live in north Florida and bring them back each spring with “deer corn” so they can survive the occasional freeze.
Before I knew what “soldier flies” were, I saw a site some time ago that was complaining about the problem with “soldier fiies”. He was taking 4 inch PVC about 12″ to16″ in length and splitting in half lengthwise and put the two halves around his plants, holding it together with heavy rubber bands and putting his compost in the pipes for the earthworms but said that his compost was getting invaded with the soldier flies, so he put screening on the top to keep out the soldier flies, which would have been a win/win situation if left alone but little known to him and me at the time, I didn’t have the info or experience to reply then. Now I can’t find the link so I hope he has discovered the benefit of soldier flies.
Hi Deanna, I love your website. The information you share is amazing. I’ve read about growing cannabis for years and have done a few indoor grows to mixed success. I feel like all the years I read about cannabis from so many other outlets can’t compare at all to the amazing amount of detailed information you give. I will be following your method to a T for my first outdoor grown in spring. I’m really excited to try the no dig method for containers. I had no idea that was a thing and recently stumbled on the subreddit just for that. I have one question: for the amendments (kelp meal, neem meal, etc) do you add them in the same amounts for following years to each existing soil in the grow bags?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Cheryl, thank you so much for the kind words and we are grateful for your support! I will usually re amend the grow bags a month or so before a plant will end up in the container and it is not the same as the original amount. I will usually go on the lighter side of things compared to some recommendations, in a 25 gallon grow bag, I will usually re amend with roughly 1/2 cup each of the original amendments (kelp, neem, alfalfa, crab, gypsum, and oyster shell flour, while no extra rock dust is needed). And then use monthly top dressings or weekly/bi-weekly botanical teas throughout the plants cycle. Hope that helps and have fun growing!
Hi Aaron, thank you for the response! That makes sense to replenish prior to planting. I will make note of that. When you say to add monthly top dressings, would that also be with more of the same amendments or is that with the mulch of the various herbs and flowers you recommend in your article?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Cheryl, monthly top dressings are more or less the same amendments. We typically just use alfalfa meal and kelp meal while the plants are in the vegetative stage and use neem meal and kelp meal once the plant is in flower. We will usually top dress malted barley powder every week or two as well. Hope that helps and have fun growing!
I am a daddy’s girl too :). I loved the info on tomatos and will be referring back to your info you are really down to earth and there was so much that you do that I found an interest in and your laid back way of explaining things made it easy to understand and pulled me in to wanting to know you more. I so appreciate your knowledge and love for earth. Love garden food and thank you so much. For the answers on questions I had. Stay well & blessings always , Jenifer
Hello, I made your calendula salve last year and I’m getting flowers ready now to make a whole bunch more! I want to put a flower into the salve like your article showed, to make it pretty. Do you use a fresh or dried flower for that? And do you pour the melted salve over the flower or place the flower after pouring the salve into the container?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Elizabeth, definitely use dried flowers to garnish your salve and I would add the petals after the salve has been poured into the containers but before it solidifies. If the petals don’t as readily float on top while the salve is still liquid, you may have to let it harden more before garnishing them. Hope that helps and enjoy your calendula salve.
Hi Deanna and Aaron, I am a 71 year old with some arthritis niggles and would like to try CBD oil for pain relief and for sleep, night can be the time you feel the aches most.
I read your article on making CBD oil and purchased auto flowering Sweet CBD Hemp seeds from Herbies seeds, illegal for us in New Zealand with our antiquated laws, thankfully they arrived. The first planting died from to much water and fertiliser so I have read the second was planted to late in the season, was doing well but as the days shortened it gave one little bud and then died.
Our spring begins in September with the warmer weather late October, longest day December 22, 14 – 15 hours of sunlight.
I will have to grow in a large pot or paint pail, my question am I better to use sunlight or artificial led lighting, trying to be green fingered.
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Paul, have you checked out our How To Grow Cannabis Organically: Seeds, Soil, Containers & Care as well as the other cannabis grow related articles we have? Growing indoors is an option and it gives you the chance to grow whenever you want but there are a few more things to consider with that option. It sounds like you did fine growing outdoors, you just started a tad too late. Autoflowering plants also typically don’t get very big and the amount of flower they produce can vary by plant. You are better off starting a few seeds at a time in case something happens to one of them and if all goes smoothly, you will just have more CBD rich flowers at your disposal. Hope that helps and have fun growing.