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    The Microhomestead Report {May 2009}

    May 25, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    May is always a strange month here on the blog {and in real life} because I am so distracted by special occasions {our anniversary, my birthday, Mother’s Day, E.’s birthday, Memorial Day, just to name a few}. Besides this, it is a good month for being outside. Often.

    And since I am currently so intimately acquainted with our property, I thought I’d give an update on what is going on here on the microhomestead.


    As you know, our six Khaki Campbell ducklings arrived last week. They are a delight, and also a surprise because the breed behaves a bit differently than our Pekins did when they were tiny. They are also faster, meaning that I can’t take them for a swim alone like I did with Sam and Alex. It took four of us to round them up this morning.

    So far we are still toying with names. We don’t know their personalities well enough yet. We are determined to use Beatrix Potter’s names: Jemima Puddleduck and Rebeccah Puddleduck, but that is all we are set on. They are so sweet that I considered suggesting we give them all flower names.

    Everything I read before we bought these babies said that ducks are social animals and so you should never buy just one. I didn’t know what this meant before we owned and observed these animals. I thought this just meant that they liked companionship. This is not so! It is so much more than this. Our ducks do everything together. Sam and Alex are a pair. When one is hungry, they both eat; thirsty, they both drink; dry, they both swim; and so on. Alex has always been quicker than Sam, but we never had to worry because if we could catch Sam and put her back in her cage, Alex was sure to follow behind, quacking up a storm.

    The Khaki Campbell flock has a different dynamic because there are half a dozen of them. But the description still applies, just on a larger scale. They all drink together, swim together, splash together. The difference is that in order to encourage flock behavior, I have to get a majority to do something, not just one as it was with Sam and Alex. So, for instance, I couldn’t get them back in their cage this morning until I had caught four of them. It was only then that the last two conformed their behavior.

    Sam and Alex, by the way, are pretty much full grown. They are huge, white ducks now, with very loud quacks. They are completely tame, and will sit and let us pet them. The KC’s are making progress in that direction, also, for today one allowed me to touch her without being caught first.


    We have a drainage issue out back. It is going to be a problem now that mosquito season is upon us. However, it is also a bit of a blessing because it has been a good location for Duck Swimming Lessons. It has also become much more than a puddle. It now has all of these creatures living in it, and these creatures just happen to be what duckies love to eat.

    This morning, I noticed little tiny somethings swimming around in the water. The ducks were eating them in big gulps. I am almost certain they are tadpoles, likely from the tiny sort of frogs which make their home in my garden. I look forward to seeing if I’m right; they should be big enough to identify for certain in a few days.


    We are having fewer fungal problems now that the weather has heated up. It helps that the ground dries out a bit each day. Fungus tends to like areas which are constantly moist. We are doing what we can to build up the soil in such a way that the fungus gets back into balance with the rest of the flora in our soil.

    New Tree!

    Kimbrah was kind enough to bring me a fig tree for our orchard. This brings us up to seven trees, our goal being somewhere between thirteen and fifteen in that one area. I’m also hoping to plant a maple in a corner to offer some shade, and also food for our worms.

    What We’re Trying

    Sometimes I think I could write a whole blog on what goes through my mind when I examine our lifeless soil. This world is so infatuate with Pasteur’s germ theory that we think sterility is good. It is emphatically not good. Just today I was analyzing this strange circle in which nothing will grow. We water it, but nothing happens. I bet that if I anazlyed it under a microscope, I’d discover that it had no flora whatsoever.

    After doing a lot of research on what will help improve our soil while not harming our ducks and also not costing too much money, here are three things we have tried in the last month or so:

    • Grounds for your Garden: Starbucks is kind enough to give away their used coffee grounds for free! We’ve probably put about fifty pounds of coffee into our soil since discovering this. We have areas that are very low on organic matter, and this was an easy way to work some in while we wait for our compost to simmer.
    • Super Red Worms: We bought these babies from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, which is an excellent place to buy them, as long as you can stand the service. They can be a little slow, and they don’t tell you if something is backordered. But, the product is good. These guys are great little composters.
    • Vermipods: Also from Uncle Jim’s, these worm cocoons were planted today by me and our resident two-year-old. Worms do all sorts of amazing things for soil, and our soil has…are you ready for it?…none. That’s right. None at all. I told you it was dead out here. Anyhow, I thought at first that some might decide to move in once we started giving the soil some water, but then I learned that once worms go away, they tend to come back in about a hundred years.

      This was not good news.

      But I discovered that Vermipods are a quick and easy way to “plant” worms right into the soil. I bought a hundred, which should hatch about 2,000 worms, and in a year there should be 32,000 if they all reproduce at a normal rate. And that is good news, indeed.

    • EM-1 Microflora: Okay, so the idea here is that health in soil {and people, by the way} is a result of healthy flora existing in a balance that is conducive to life {hence the common term probiotic}. Sterility is the absence of life, and it usually leads to the overgrowth of bad microbes. We understand this in the human body, when a lack of good bodily flora as a result of antibiotics can lead to candida overgrowth {candida is a natural flora, but it becomes out of balance}, or even staph infections.

      Good organisms keep dangerous organisms in balance. This is symbolic, if you think about it, which is something I did today for 37 minutes.


      So as I was saying, my soil seemed sterile. Good microbes tend to exist in a symbiotic relationship with little creatures like worms and plants. The question becomes how to encourage healthy flora when there is none.

      Enter EM-1, a balanced beneficial culture which we purchased from The Peddlar’s Wagon, because we love those folks over in Pasadena, and it is almost like buying local. We plan to use a water hose application to spray it evenly all over the property. And then I’m keeping some to use for cool tricks like culturing our compost, trying a new EM sourdough starter {mine died due to neglect, which is to say sloth}, and even culturing it in our problem puddle I mentioned above. I read that EM-1 has been used to clean up problem ponds, so why not use it on mine?

    That’s all for today. Anyone else trying something new in your garden?

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  • Reply Brandy August 13, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Elizabeth, Thank you! After discussing the merits of the name with my son, he decided you had a pretty good idea. 🙂

  • Reply Elizabeth August 9, 2009 at 4:53 am

    I know of a name you could give to your last duckling. You could name it Penelope. Penelope would be a good name because it means duck.

  • Reply Maine Worms May 26, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Uncle Jim has lousy service and dont ship have the time. You were very lucky you got anything at all. Watch out they have two names and companies. So they can scam more people.

    TheBerwick worm farm and Waste Systems

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