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    The Microhomestead Report {Early May 2010}

    May 13, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    I spent some time recently walking around our property, surveying all the baby plants, and taking some photos. Some of our babies appear to have more promise than others, but I’m not feeling too terribly discouraged, seeing as our goal this year is to Grow Soil rather than necessarily to Grow Vegetables. We love our veggies, but we aren’t going to have much of a harvest until we get our dirt under control.

    Anna Tree
    One thing that took me by surprise this year was the activity in the orchard. We haven’t even lived here for two years. Last February, we planted a number of trees, and then we tried to finish off the orchard this February {though I have since learned we may have a late-bearing orange tree headed our way}. All of this is to say that I didn’t expect any fruit for at least another year, if not a number of years from now.

    But two of our apple trees are loaded with fruit. I quickly studied up on apple thinning, and the remaining fruit has really plumped up since I thinned the trees last week. Granted, these trees are still small, so we aren’t talking about a lot of fruit, but I expected nothing so this is a very pleasant surprise.
    Anna Apples

    Anna is a lovely apple variety for the southern valley, as it is extremely low chill {less than 300 hours}. This past winter, that wouldn’t have mattered, but considering how mild some of our winters can be, it was a definitely consideration for us. Another benefit of Anna is its July harvest. We cannot wait to taste one, and the good news is that we don’t have to wait all that long! Our Anna tree was beautiful in bloom.

    Granny Smith Apples
    The Granny Smith tree was not to be outdone. The apples were so numerous on the branches, they looked more like grapes before thinning. Just last week, they were only about 1″ diameter fruits, but they responded well to the thinning and plumped up quickly. What you see is over 2″, meaning they more than doubled in size in only a week.
    I took a photo of our cherry tree, but it didn’t come out. There are three little cherries on it, from what I can see. Not a big deal, I know, but considering that we only planted her in February, I was quite impressed. Her friends in the last row–Idaho Walnut, All-in-One Almond, and Comice Pear–still haven’t woken up yet. To tell you the truth, that detail concerns me a bit, but there is nothing we can do other than wait and watch.
    Our peach tree also has a light crop. I cannot remember the name of this particular variety–Sunset, perhaps? Maybe Saturn. Something like that. It is the only tree we purchased that was bred to be ornamental as well as fruiting. She did not disappoint, for she was the queen of the flowers early this spring, and I was so happy that we remembered to plant her where we could see her from the dining room window.
    We have made liberal use of our new friend and ally, Microclover {Trifolium repens.} One of the ways we are using this beautiful clover is to plant it around the base of each tree. I later read that this helps prevent erosion, but the main reason we did it was to try and keep away the weeds. Our new philosophy is that the earth wants a covering. Period. As long as we leave the ground bare, we are going to find ourselves battling with weeds. But, since we know that the ground is modest {as Si like to put it}, it is to our advantage to buy her some proper clothes, something that we like, and something which is useful when it comes to our other goal: growing better soil. So, clover it is. I’ll write more about this in a future post.
    Future Strawberry
    In the meantime, the strawberry patch is beginning to perk up. I had my doubts about it; the babies didn’t handle transplanting very well. But they’re doing okay. We have a couple green berries that should be ready for eating {if the starlings don’t steal them} next week. I am hoping that this everbearing variety is aggressively stoloniforous and will fill in the patch quickly and efficiently.
    Volunteer Sunflowers
    In other news, we had a number of sunflowers volunteer for duty. What a wonderful surprise! I didn’t replant sunflowers, but I suppose my delay in harvest last year meant that a number of seeds fell to the ground, ready for this year to come. We only picked one {because it was blocking the water supply} and are letting the others grow up tall. Hopefully, sunflowers get along well with tomatoes, because my tomatoes are going to need all the help they can get. What a sorry looking lot they are!
    Zucchini Seedling
    My son and I soaked some zucchini seeds on a whim about a month ago. I hadn’t planned to plant any seeds at all since we were working on soil issues late into the planting season, but E. suggested it, and I figured, why not? They are tiny, but they’re looking good so far. If you look closely at the photo, you can see teensy tiny microclover sprouts. We call this “pastured gardening” and I am convinced it’s the next new thing in gardening!
    Buckwheat Flowers
    Our buckwheat crop is still going strong. Our first winter here, we planted this as a sort of ground cover, to keep down the weeds. It was also an experiment, just for fun! We didn’t even buy the seed, but planted some of what we had on hand for our gluten-free diet. Usually our area is too hot by now, and the buckwheat would have withered and died away, but our spring has been so mild that it is thriving {even though we planted it late this time around}, and I am curious if we’ll make it all the way to seed. I love the flowers. They make me happy. So do the resulting pancakes.
    Rouge Vif d’Etampes Pumpkin
    We also had two pumpkins come up! Technically, they are not volunteers, because I planted them on purpose. However, I did that last year, and our soil was so bad that I had only a 50% germination rate. Thankfully, none of the birds ran off with the seeds, and after some work early this spring, we have two pumpkins trying their best. These pumpkins are a French Cinderella variety called Rouge Vif d’Etampes, and they are supposed to produce a red fruit that is large–between 10 and 25 pounds. Unfortunately for us, all our little plot could muster was tiny little orange three-pounders last year. I am hoping this year turns out better.
    Boadicea and Friends
    Of course, the pumpkin’s primary enemy in our area is…any and all giant Khaki Campbell ducks! I like to let the girls graze freely, but they simply cannot be trusted without someone keeping a close eye on them. They haven’t been out lately, due to our attempt to establish the clover. I read somewhere that they like clover, and I’m not willing to hazard a test of this until the clover has knit together a bit.
    In all, things are shaping up nicely. We are actually ahead of where I thought we’d be on our five-year plan, so I certainly cannot complain. We’re learning a lot, we’ve had some failures, but we’ve also got some future successes to look forward–starting with {God willing} a large basket full of Anna apples come July!

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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts May 20, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Rahime, June would be good for us! Once you know ‘Chung’s schedule, let me know and then I’ll give you the doctor’s phone number. Initial visits are about 2 hours, and ‘Chung should probably go with you in case he has questions–plus it is WAY interesting to watch! The office is closed on Thursdays, FYI.

    Let me know!

  • Reply Rahime May 16, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    Ok, well I’ll talk to ‘Chung about planning a visit. I just got him to ok a little long-weekend in Tahoe at the end of Aug. for a late anniversary trip. We’re trying not to wear out our pet-sitters (and the July trip is 3 weeks, so we’re stretching things), but for Tahoe we’ll be able to take Brembo with us b/c we’re going with a group of other Dane owners and their dogs, so we’ll just have to find someone to watch the cat that time.

    We may be able to squeeze one more trip into the summer….and seeing your dr. would be great then too. Maybe we should try for June then in case I need to come back later in the summer. I’ll see what ‘Chung’s schedule is like. It’d be great to see you!

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts May 15, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    Rahime, Actually, our summer is shaping up to be QUIET for a change. Si’s twin decided to go have another baby this summer instead of visiting us. Can you believe it?? πŸ™‚ And Si’s Mom and stepdad came for Easter instead of summer. So all’s quiet on the home front, especially since I don’t think we can afford to travel anywhere ourselves this summer.

    Which leaves me tons of time for hostessing…and maybe you can visit our doctor while you are here. (!) If you guys want to come, I mean.

    I’d love to set something up once you know what your own schedule looks like. I think Si has one out-of-town meeting for work in June, but that is about it.

    By the way…

    TO ANYONE STILL READING THESE COMMENTS: Please don’t think my backyard is gorgeous! It was a blank flat slab of dirt when we moved in, with an ugly triangular base for a former dog run, and that is all. No sprinklers, no vegetation (save a hanful of tumbleweeds) nada, nothing. So it has come a long way.

    However, comma.

    There is a reason why I took such closeup photos! πŸ™‚ We still have a looooong way to go before anyone would actually call us pretty. We are the proverbial Ugly Duckling: we have potential. πŸ˜‰

    Oh, and Rahime: I found out that we are allowed to have pygmy dairy goats here. A maximum of three, actually. However, I haven’t figured out how we’d do that. We set everything up assuming that we couldn’t have them, and now there is no perfect spot for them. Maybe someday in the future we could try something, but I know that goats can be ornery, and I’m not sure I could do it.

    I love our place, but sometimes I do dream of having an adjacent pasture for larger projects like that.

  • Reply Rahime May 14, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    I do want to visit. Do you have your usual string of house guests and busy, busy coming this summer? Maybe we’ll make a trip sometime in June or August (we’re on the east coast almost all of July).

    I don’t know if it’s just living in such close proximity to Bezerkeley, your blog, the reading & research I’ve been doing, or what, but I think I’m turning into one of them hippies.

    ‘Chung was mildly amused with the raw milk/dairy thing…though he does admit it tastes better and does not cause the lactose intolerance for him that pasteurized, homogenized milk does. But when I start things like feeding my pets raw, talking about home births, homeopaths, and exclaiming that our city is now actually encouraging residents to raise up to 6 hens, not to mention the subtle hints that if we had a little land we could get a cow or a goat, he gives me the look that says “you’re crazy” and “I’m not sure anymore if I’m more amused or scared.”

    I don’t have much actual interaction with feminists (though CODE PINK is…or was?…stationed right up the street from us), but what on earth is a “femivore” anyways? Someone who eats women? I think Mystie’s right though, they’re trying to legitimize a decision (to “stay home,” keep a home and raise children) that is diametrically opposed to the gospel of feminism.

    Ok, one more comment, and then I’ll stop… I LOVE the microclover. It’s beautiful, and Si’s description of the ground being modest is perfectly fitting…I like it. That was two. Oooops.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts May 14, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    Mystie, You can see today’s post for more clover info. I’ve been playing with the idea of a post for a while, and your comment brought it out of me. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Jennifer May 14, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    Just lovely! Enjoy the fruit of your labors!

  • Reply Mystie May 14, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Hm…would the clover overtake the garden area, do you think? We killed the grass we dug up and I’m currently using clumps of it as my paths. I (and the children) need a visual of where it is ok and not ok to walk.

    I had rock paths (of all the rocks I dug out of the soil) at our last garden, and it didn’t work well, so I’m not eager to try gravel. It gets into the garden, it’s not easy to get the wheelbarrow through, it’s not fun to kneel on, and the weeds still grow through it and then the rocks make it hard to pull the weeds out!

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts May 14, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Thanks, Rebecca. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts May 14, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    I am about to sound like I have an addiction.

    My short-term plan for paths is: NONE. Our garden is terribly disorganized because I am planting things where I think they will grow (due to our soil issues) rather than where they would actually look neat and tidy. (This drives Si crazy, but he chooses to tolerate me…he is an organized guy.) My long-term plan had been gravel paths with cute little wooden borders, and I do have stepping stones in the strawberry patch, but my new long-term plan is…say it with me….drum roll, please!…clover. πŸ™‚

    It pretty much does everything I wanted the gravel to do: covers the ground, keeps the weeds back, allows a cleaner-than-dirt place to kneel, can handle the abuse of short people, and so on. But the added bonus is that it’ll nitrogen-fix the ground and build up the topsoil while not providing anything for my children to throw at animals and windows when I’m not looking.

    Again, I will report on the microclover sometime after it matures to say if my ideals are actually practical in this area.

    Someday I’ll post a map or something of what we are doing. We have long narrow garden beds that most folks would tend to think were for flowers, but I am hoping to grow copious amounts of food while still having a lawn in the center for the children to enjoy.

  • Reply Mystie May 14, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Yes, as my friend who sent me the link this morning said, “The poor people are just stuck trying to “legitimize” a role that is already acceptable.”

  • Reply Mystie May 14, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    What do you do for paths within your garden space?

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts May 14, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    ps. The idea of the ground needing a cover was one we caught from either Gene Logsdon or Wendell Berry or maybe both. I like the way Si talks about it. πŸ™‚

    pps. Don’t you love the way the feminists are trying to call everything feminist, even when it is actually a return to the ways of their great-grandmothers? Why can’t we just say something is a good idea?

    Maybe Rahime can answer this question. You live near Bezerkly. πŸ™‚ (HA!)

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts May 14, 2010 at 4:07 pm


    You could get your fill by coming to visit (hint, hint). πŸ™‚ I love our ducks, and I really appreciate how quiet they are–this particular breed makes good neighbors. However, sometimes I wish we had chickens instead. This is mainly due to a duck’s nature as a waterfowl–they require SO much water (though this breed is less than some), and they splash it on the ground and sift the wet dirt with their beaks, causing giant holes in my lawn! It wouldn’t be so bad if they roamed completely free because then they’d not focus all their efforts on one small space. My long-term goal is to get a fence between the orchard and the strawberry patch and then have them caged in the orchard. They would still need some sort of nighttime shelter to protect them from racoons and skunks, but they would have a much larger space to roam free, and they’d keep the bugs off my trees.


    I really am not a dirt expert, but I am a firm believer in the combination of shredded newspaper, coffee grounds, and clover! This particular clover is a lawn substitute, so it knits together, plus it doesn’t require much water, nor mowing, and it stays fairly short (or so they say…ours isn’t mature yet). The nice thing about clover is that it would break up that clay for you–clover has a deep root system that is good for such things.

    But perhaps this is a personal fad. I’m really excited about clover right now! However, I haven’t done this long enough to know if what I’ve read is true.

  • Reply Rebecca May 14, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Nice going, Brandy.

  • Reply Mystie May 14, 2010 at 3:31 pm


    “The ground is modest” — that is a good insight. πŸ™‚ I don’t know what to do with the patch of dry, sandy dessert-dirt surrounding my garden area (which is clayey underneath the top level); maybe I will have to try clover.

    The feminists are jealous of you:

  • Reply Rahime May 14, 2010 at 9:51 am

    It looks great! I’m reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma” now, and I’ve been thinking about your garden and ducks and how much I’d like one of my own. πŸ˜‰

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