Update on the Small House Fruit Tree Inoculation

If you have been reading this blog for very long you probably know that our fruit orchard was all but wiped out by the 2009-2012 high ground water flooding we experienced. After getting over the stress and shock of those terrible four springs when we thought we were going to lose our home to either flooding or mold. And we did lose much of our painstakingly built up soil and then like many farmers who have experienced such loss, we set about shaking off the crisis and replanting.

USE FIRST PEACH and comfrey

Our peach tree with its comfrey guild below.

We replanted in the spring of 2015 using a mix of three nursery bought pears and peaches trees and three grafted heirloom apples from South meadow Fruit Gardens located in Benton Harbor about an hour’s drive from us.

Email smfruit@aol.com

I had never used grafted stock before and I wanted to hedge my success by planting three years old Jonkers Garden Center bought trees as well and the one-year-old specialty grafted tree stock from Southmeadow Fruit Gardens.

Tree triangle dirt only

The large triangle bed in the very early spring after we dug up the sod.

Following the advice of Michael Phillips, author of The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruit and Berries the Biological Way. At his recommendation we dug up a large section of grass in a large triangle shape and planted the trees 8 ft. apart.

I worked hard to improve my lean oak savannah forest soil by adding well composted horse manure mixed in with hay and covered in bark chips. his is the secret recipe to growing anything here.

Comfrey and lupines USE

Sterile Russian comfrey, native lupines and ramial bark chips as mulch.

The plan was to plant comfrey under each tree at the root line which we did. I ordered 58 slips of Russian comfrey at $1.00 each and they have grown beautifully and flowered quite well their first summer. The delicate blue comfrey flowers call out to the bumble bees who come and take home their yellow pollen.

The Holistic Orchard book front

Using permaculture terms, we planted a “fruit guild” with our White Oak trees for the top layer, the fruit trees for the middle layer and nitrogen-fixing plants like comfrey, native lupines, daffodils and chives below. And then I added the best material of all; ramial wood chips as the main course for feeding mycorrhizal and saprophytic fungi in an orchard food web that in turn supports our fruit trees.

Fruit tree bed from a distance USE

This is a terrific book and one I highly recommend for anyone who wishes to grow fruit organically. You can locate this book by using this ISBN number; ISBN 978-1-933392-13-4.

I watered our fruit trees and comfrey faithfully all summer and they have gotten off to a good start. We plan to stake and fence in the triangle beds this fall to protect the tender fruit trees from deer, rabbit and any other browsers who might come along and decide they are a good-looking treat! We also feel that fencing and staking them will give us a good visual to work around this first year so we can avoid them in winter playtime, dog ball kicking and snow blowing paths to and from the pole barn.

A few weeks ago, at Phillips recommendation we drove into the state-owned Todd Farm Preserve located about 10 miles from the Small House homestead. We located the sight of several wild apple trees we have visited, and picked from in previous years. We dug up a couple of buckets of soil from under these trees and brought that soil home and “inoculated” our own fruit trees with that soil.

According to Phillips the purpose of inoculation is to both create an orchard soil that ideally contains a fungal presence ten time higher than that of bacteria and because the key to tree vitality is this nutrient exchange between the roots via these fungal helpers and the soil.

In a few weeks I will do a chop and drop of the comfrey leaves so they too can work their magic on the soil around the beds.

We are trying to be as biological as possible with our fruit trees and not spray or use chemicals in any way.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Heirloom Fruit Trees Planted on the Homestead

We replanted the fruit trees today in our home orchard.We planted three apples, two pears and a peach tree.

These trees replace those that died of old age and those that we lost in the high ground water flooding during the time period of 2009-2012. This extended time of flooding was  very rough time for us on our homestead. Living through the flooding and the stress that comes from the uncertainty of losing one’s home and has given me a much greater sense of how farmers and growers who live off the land must feel during bud killing frosts, drought, flooding, wildfires and so on.

Gene from front tree going in hole

Gene removing a fruit trees from its container.

We want to grow organic fruit without a lot of chemical sprays so we started this journey by reading The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips. Published by Chelsea green, The Holistic Orchard is a seminal work that is being compared with Sir Albert Howard and J.L. Rodale’s classic books on soil and organic gardening.

HORS triangle of dirt and trees waiting

 One of two large growing beds filled with manure, straw and our homemade compost.

After deciding that I wanted to grow heirloom trees  I found a source of heritage fruit trees at Southmeadow Fruit Gardens, Baroda, MI.,  which is located about an hour from our home. I found I was over whelmed by the numerous choices and I just didn’t know which one would do best in our area. After several e-mail conversations with the owner of the business  I placed an order for “Pete’s Picks.”

Pete choose the following trees species for us as the best choice for our soil, light and wind conditions;

1) Tohuky (fugi)
2) Court Pen Do Plat
3) Perry Russet


Cart horizontal

Our garden cart was used to hold our mix of manure, compost and waste straw.

I also bought two Barlette pears and one Red Haven Peach from Jonker’s Garden Center, Holland, MI, a very respected nursery. I figure that I am hedging my bets by buying and planting three heritage species and two others known to do well in this geographic area.

Jobes Fruit Tree Spikes

We added Jobes fruit tree fertilizer; two spikes per tree.


  1. Semi-dwarfs (10-15 ft. in height)
  2. Self-pollinating trees
  3. Heritage tree varities
  4. Varities that require the least amount of chemicals possible


We have flat land, lean and sandy soil and frequent droughts here on our SW Michigan homestead. We are working with a site that is sunny with some shade created by our home and several nearby large White Oak trees. We are located 17 miles inland from Lake Michigan and the heavy winds off the big lake can sometime blow down the roadway in front of our home so our site can be very windy at times.

The planting bed location was chosen both for the amount of sun the site provided but also to create a bit more of a buffer from the class AA roadway that runs in front of our home.

Following the principles outlined in the Holistic Garden we planted our trees in a large triangle combining a Permaculture fruit guild theory with underplantings of comfrey as a deep-rooted nitrogen fixer.  Later on we will add native lupines, chives, daffodils and yarrow.

We are both very tired today….but it is the satisfied kind of tired from a job well done. I know only Gene is photographed in these pictures, but I work side by side with him all the way. We are a team.

The next step will be to pick up a truck load of bark chips to use as a mulch on both beds.

In about three years we will picking our own fruit right from our own trees. ALL organic!

Small House Homesteader and gardener, Donna

Shrine of the Pines

I am of the belief that a homesteader can’t plant too many trees.

VERT new pines plantedjpeg

One of the new White Pines we planted last week. This sits in a bed of bark chips to help keep the evergreens moist and to help it get well established.

This fall we planted five more, 6 foot tall trees on our SW Michigan Small House homestead property. We are a Zone 5b here and between the heavy snowfall, the roaring winds off of nearby Lake Michigan and the browsing deer, pines seem to be the optimal evergreens for us here.

Four pines to east USE

The privacy border to the east of our property. Eventually these pines will screen our home from the Class A road in front of our home.

Two of the new evergreens are White Pines and three are Arborvitae, situated nearer to the front of our home We are testing out these arborvitae, knowing they are finicky and that the deer love to eat them. We will have to wrap them in burlap for the winter – another fall chore Gene is not too happy about that.

Evergreens Genes back USE

The newest privacy bed located in front of the Small House will help to provide a barrier between our front picture window and the busy roadway.

It seems like we are always planting one kind of tree or another here. Last year we planted 50 baby White Pines through the County Extension program (around $26.00 for 50 trees) and two years ago we planted another 5 six-foot tall White Pines.

Bark chips strip only USE

Two years ago we put down bark chips in our planned planting area to help to prepare the soil. 

Three arborvite-house-blueskky USE

The newly planted arborvitae in front of The Small House in mid-September.



Gene directs our friend who works the tractor digging the hole and then placing the dogwood tree in that hole. This is the first time we have had help planting using a tractor – so much quicker. Usually we use our backs and hands to plant trees!

Last year we also replaced a small native dogwood in our bird feeding bed too after our flowering cherry died from the high ground water flooding.


The new flowering dogwood in bloom.


A burlap wrapped ball of the dogwood tree just before adding the compost and dirt..

It takes a White Pine approximately 75 years to grow to its mature height (75 ft.) and width (35-50 ft.).


Baby pine plantedj peg

The baby pines purchased from the County extension.

Mostly we plant trees for privacy from the busy roadway outside of our home but trees, as you know, give us so many other benefits too.

I know that we won’t live to see these trees mature in our lifetime but this is one of the things we do on out homestead because we know it is the right thing to do. We plant trees for Mother Nature and the Earth.

While it is recommended that homesteaders plant fruit tree their first year, we lost all but two of our small fruit trees in the big 2009-20012 flooding. So we will be starting that project over again. Next year’s plan is to plant heritage fruit trees in our orchard. I’d like a couple of apples, a peach and a pear tree. Gene would like a couple of fig trees as well. 

I plan to be very careful about species selection choosing only trees that are both heritage proven (that need no spraying) disease and blight resistant and the tree types that are propagated do well in our soil and climate.  I am researching our options this winter.

Small House Homesteader (and tree planter) Donna

Putting Food By

This time of year is very busy on our homestead. Like folks on homesteads everywhere we are getting ready for winter.

In our case this means, freezing and dehydrating food grown or bought. Because we do not have a basement we simply don’t have a lot of room for canned goods. I can put a few jars in our kitchen pantry cupboard but cannot make canning the focus of my food saving system. Although we have an ample sized 2,000 sq. ft. home, our heated storage area is a bit tight.

Canned good on windowsill

A few of the fruits of my labor this summer; kale, green peppers and peaches.

Initially I dabbled with air dehydrating of herbs and oven dehydrating of apple slices both of which work but take  more drying time and space.

Then late this summer (after many years of saving for and dreaming about a highly efficient dehydrator) I purchased a 9 rack Excalibur dehydrator and am in the process of learning about it. My first project was to dry sliced green peppers and much to my surprise I found that I could get 15 large green peppers in one quart jar after they were dehydrated. Now that’s a great space saver! Peaches were next up and then some giant curly kale leaves. Soon I will try dehydrating sliced apples and pears.

With the exception of strawberries, black raspberries, and a scraggly old apple tree, we don’t grow our own fruit yet so I am dependent on either buying or gleaning them, the method that I prefer. Luckily we are blessed to live in what is called the fruit belt and wonderful fresh fruit is prevalent here. I am so grateful to live in this lake moderated area with many orchards to choose from. We can easily find and purchase apples, peaches, apricots pears, plums and more.

I am currently researching heritage trees for our own orchard and hope to get this orchard going as soon as possible. We want to have our own apples, peaches, pears, paw paws and fig trees.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Drying basil on cookie sheets takes approximately two weeks and no fossil fuels.

One of my favorite books on fruit trees is The Beautiful Edible Garden, by Leslie Bennett and Stefani Bittner with Studio Choo. ISBN: 978-1-60774-233-3.

I plan on visiting a great heritage fruit tree nursery is Southmeadow Fruit Gardens, Baroda, MI. e-mail: smfruit@a

Southmeadow Fruit Gardens Choice and Unusual Fruit Tree Varieties for the Connoisseur and Home Gardener.
Southmeadow Fruit Gardens was established to make available choice and superior varieties of fruit trees and plants for the connoisseur and home gardener. After searching for sourcewood and testing for authenticity, these varieties are propagated at our nursery in Southwestern Michigan. They are available to the public through this online catalog.
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Thanks you for reading and/or following.

Small House Homestead Donna