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Homestead Happenings: The Urban Homestead

2011 June 1

Col and Rose’s eight thousand new siblings have arrived!

And while they’re not exactly cuddly, Rose has been calling them like she calls our cat, clucking sweetly and beckoning with a crooked finger.

Last week I discovered Col trying to catch them in his net. And I’ve been trying to give the kids helpful information, like honeybees sting when they’re mad, and it really hurts, instead of say, roping off the hives and installing a motion-triggered bullhorn.

Col wasn’t exactly trying to catch them when he got stung, he reported, he was more like teaching Rosie how to catch them. Dan pulled out the stinger, chewed up some fresh plantain leaves and slapped them on the sting. Five minutes later Col was sitting on Dan’s lap wondering, “is it called venom or more like poison that the bee put in me?”

If we had more land, perhaps we could put the honeybee hives somewhere besides between the swingset and the raspberry patch. But homestead in our case is an 1/8 acre city plot which looks a little like Carmen Miranda salsa-dancing in a dress made entirely of apple-blossoms stitched together with rainbow chard stems; meanwhile our neighbors’ yards have just been to the salon for a trim and a wax. “Biodiverse,” Dan likes to say of this small plot of land we’ve crammed with children, chickens, bees, fruit trees, raspberries, strawberries, grape vines, hops, vegetables, herbs and flowers.

The grass on our property has become more like pasture than lawn.

And yet, there’s no doubt we live in town. We’re required to register our seven hens at city hall. The roar of lawn equipment rushes in through open windows making certain romantic moments more like bad comedy. Sometimes I want to snap a picture in our backyard without my neighbor’s deflated, blow-up pool all twisted and limp like blue roadkill in the background. Sometimes I want milking goats.

But really, this fenced rectangle of land is my paradise.

On Saturday we celebrated our 13-year anniversary of buying this property. Dan drew a picture with 13 Earths spinning around 13 suns to illustrate to the kids how long we’ve been here.

Go here to read about how we transformed this property from a treeless sea of weedy grass to a 1/8 acre explosion of biodiversity and weedy grass (if nothing else check out the before and after pictures, holy moly!).

On the homestead:

If you place 5-gallon buckets of rainwater around the garden, someone may decide to take a bath.

The hoop house got moved from the carrots to the newly-planted tomatoes, which are getting a lot of fussing over. It’s a little like having a second child – the way the oldest gets kicked out of the stroller or the Ergo carrier as soon as the next baby comes along.

The carrots are big for June 1st (thanks to the hoop house), as are the volunteer hollyhocks which know a good party when they see one. Do you have a hard time pulling lovely volunteers that crash your garden beds?

Speaking of carrots, we went to the farmer’s market last weekend and I gave the kids $3/each to buy something that wasn’t yet harvestable in our garden. They chose carrots from Stone Free Farm, thankfully. We had finished our last local carrot sometime in February and had been buying grocery store carrots for the last few months. And because I grew up in California I can say the vibrations on those local carrots are intense.

Dan has been making these amazing “green drinks” lately. Basically, he picks an armload of greens (mostly edible and highly nutritious weeds), and throws them in a blender with an apple/lemon/rhubarb stalk, then strains out the juice. He says you can also strain juice out through your beard.

Dan and Rose picking greens for Green Drink

We’re back to our old summer trick of hauling the kids, post-nap, to the woods for an evening campfire and rumpus.

Slabs of wood work fine when you forget plates. (Elk burgers and Stone Free Farm carrots - can you sense the vibration?)

We’ve been working on plans for our root cellar. Of course it has to fit in somewhere between the large garden and small orchard, the honeybees and the chickens. Dan has been referring to the root cellar as “the antler kiva,” which is a sign that we still have some details to iron out.

With love,


* If anyone knows of any really successful root cellars, please share details!

* Thanks so much for all your thoughtful responses to my technology ambivalence. You guys are so smart and rational. And funny. I regularly laugh out loud when reading your comments, especially this last one from Chi-An, predicting her son’s future request: “Mom, everyone else in 8th grade has a neural implant phone!” I also loved what Ami said, “you don’t need to let the kids in on your secret (the internet)…they already know.” Shit. They do don’t they? But I’ve realized, they don’t care. When I’m on the computer the kids don’t think I’m beaming up to some supreme source. They want to know if there’s any cool pictures on the screen, like skateboarding cats, and then can we puhleeease go outside and catch grasshoppers?

32 Responses leave one →
  1. June 1, 2011

    I love your garden.

  2. June 1, 2011

    Your garden is amazing. Wasn’t it snowing just last week, or the week before?

    And it occurs to me that, though I know nothing about gardening, and though we don’t have the $1.2+ million it would cost actually to buy a house with a yard around here … if I could get my hands on 1/8 acre around here, I could actually have such a garden, or a reasonable simulacrum, here in Brooklyn. Anyone have about $1.2 million to share?

  3. June 1, 2011

    All of the above = radness. (If you are from CA and therefore can mention carrot vibes, I get to say Rad.)

  4. June 1, 2011

    Bees are our friends! I love Col’s wondering.

    Speaking of insect friends, we have ants who come around our new house. Ahem. A few days ago we were reading a kids book about ants (ants are our friends! right!?), and Orlando exclaimed, “Now I know why the ants all look alike! They have the same mama!! They’re brothers and sisters.”

    Peace out.

  5. June 1, 2011

    that carrot!!!!!

  6. Melissa permalink
    June 1, 2011

    grooving on carrot vibrations…

  7. June 1, 2011

    you may not have 40 acres and a mule, but you do have 1/8 of an acre of bees, trees and weeds and i envy you for it…the type of envy that can also say, “go rachel! go rachel! and col and rose and dan!”, since the way you share your delight leaves plenty to go around. it’s the vibration you know…i can dig it.

  8. ike permalink
    June 1, 2011

    Having grown up in Brooklyn I am very impressed with what you all have done in that small plot of land! Remarkable!


  9. June 1, 2011

    Your little paradise is a true inspiration. I’ve got over an acre to play with, and I am sort of ashamed to admit that I haven’t done nearly as well as you! Excellent job making use of your space! When are you gonna write a book about it!? I’m jealous of your bees, too. I’ve thought about having bees for awhile… Now, as am I looking at moving in the distant future, I’ve been thinking I will “need” all this space… but seeing what you are able to do really frees me up! Thanks!

  10. kathleen permalink
    June 1, 2011

    rachel, when the rapture actually occurs my family and i are going to immediately head to your homestead. so happy to know you are in walking distance. xxooxxoo ps all is well.

  11. June 1, 2011

    Awesome. Yay for the new babies and the produce is fantastic! I LOVED your ROTH edible weeds article!

  12. June 1, 2011

    Not only did i love your piece in Rhythm of the home today but your site is a treasure trove. I just finished taking some great workshops from Tammi Hartung here in Canon City, CO where she said you can eat mallow and dandelions, all new to me. Now I need to search around for lamb’s quarters. I will be coming back to learn more, thanks.

  13. June 1, 2011

    I run from bees like a toddler from a timeout. Maybe I need to spend some time at 6512. Or maybe I just need brave Col to tell me it doesn’t hurt that bad when they sting.

  14. June 1, 2011

    I’ve got more land (and “weeds”), but you have way more ingenuity and go-to-it-iveness. Super loud praise from over here for that serious garden–and for those wonderful, wonderful bees. Bees are…the bee’s knees. Can you even stand waiting for that honey you get to share with them?

  15. June 1, 2011

    i’m a new england girl who has only been to california once in my life and i am still SO feeling the vibes on those carrots.

    i can’t even begin to tell you how much i’ve learned from reading about your beautiful little plot of biodiversity.

    thank you for all you do and share!!!



  16. June 1, 2011

    I actually read thorugh your comments today, loving what everyone had to say. But I couldn’t leave out how much I love Rose in the pictures with her smokin’ hot purse. She cracks me up!

  17. June 1, 2011

    Look at how you grow. Amazing super-huge carrot, super-huge Rose who barely fits in a bucket. So many great pictures here today.
    Love: “13-year anniversary of.. this property…a picture with 13 Earths spinning around 13 suns..” You should have your two little come up with a list of their 13 favorite things about your property. It looks like it has undergone so many great changes, and it would be interesting to see their perspective of it’s greatness.
    I fell into this post for such a great while. So much goodness here.

  18. June 1, 2011

    love that rose in a bucket. i sort of want to put a proper cautionary image on the side to replace that other one. <3

  19. Joyce and Bob permalink
    June 1, 2011

    So pleased to see the happy faces of Rose and Col (and do try to get their smiles into your pictures as often as possible).

    Do carrots really grow that big?

    Bees too – you are brave – but is there a honey “nest” for them nearby? How one one gather honey without the bees resenting it???


  20. June 1, 2011

    Beautiful, wonderful garden! I love it.

  21. June 2, 2011

    Bees, awesome! I am really so impressed at all you have done on 1/8 of an acre. We would continue to do more here, but homesteading and Army life don’t make the best combination. I dream that one day when we are settled for good we will have chickens again and build a thriving homestead like your own :)
    Speaking of weeds, I have one or two mystery weeds that even with the power of field guides and the internet I can’t seem to identify. It’s driving me crazy! One looks very much like thyme except that it has tiny burrs growing on it and the other looks like a chamomile plant with dill flowers on it. Have any ideas off the top of your head?
    The carrots look amazing! We are loving our farmers market produce too and are especially looking forward to the ripening of junegold peaches!
    Blessings to you and the family,

    • 6512 and growing permalink
      June 2, 2011

      Send me a photo and I’ll see what I can do.

  22. June 2, 2011

    … and here I’ve assumed all along that you had a good acre or two. I have been using my small yard as an excuse for my lack of garden, but I don’t think that really holds water now.

    Col and Rose eating elk burgers and carrots in the woods is awesome. I definitely sense those vibrations!

  23. June 2, 2011

    I’m so glad you got bees! I’m thinking of doing the same, especially since I just lost my beloved dog. Bees would be *something*, but definitely not erasing the memory of my good buddy. Plus, I have bad allergies and could really use a plentiful supply of local honey. Can’t wait to hear more about your bee adventure.

  24. Sherene permalink
    June 2, 2011

    Those bees! I’ve been dreaming of bees for years now, and hope that the next year or two will make it a reality. In our neighborhood just about everything is off limits, but bees are not. And recently we enforced some laws to keep it that way. Loved your piece in ROTH. We actually stumbled upon some morels this year ( not really weeds but still free and yummy). They were in the yard and on the trail, fingers crossed we find them again next year!

  25. June 2, 2011

    aw, our pet word for hiking is “rumpus”. can’t wait to read your linked post about being the funk. hilarious title. i do indeed have a hard time pulling volunteers, in fact i am usually unsuccessful. sometimes i transplant them. but on 1/8 acre where do you send them, right? i have been wondering about your root cellar plans, i can’t wait to hear how that goes. bees are so exciting!!! i was doing a double take there for a minute with what must be last summer’s carrot and tomato pics!

    gosh i love your family.

  26. Emily permalink
    June 2, 2011

    Oh yeah, dig the vibes longtime

  27. Sylva permalink
    June 3, 2011

    I’m relatively new to posting comments on your blog, but I have to say: We love to see hobby beekeepers! My dad is a commercial beekeeper and nothing makes his heart sing like seeing someone put a couple of starter hives in their backyard!! Congratulations on your hives. And thank you for teaching your children about how important the bees really are. I know you didn’t mention anything about it, but I’ve read your blog long enough to know that you are doing it anyways. May your honey flow sticky and sweet and strong!

  28. June 5, 2011

    I love those pictures of Rose in the bucket!

  29. March 23, 2015

    While I think your garden/homestead is beautiful and I’m [slowly] working on making my whole yard edible…

    I’d caution on posting the picture of the little girl completely naked in the garden.

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