May/June Digest 2020

Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I post the article here too.

06/16/20
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

So much has been going on around here it’s hard to keep track of what’s been done, we just keep our eyes forward on the calendar and projects and spend most of the time doing the work and less time thinking about what there is to do. It’s been non-stop (and we hope that we feel some relief soon). But, in the past month we did have a major project that we are so excited to have completed – our high tunnel!  

Over a year and a half ago we started the application process for the NRCS high tunnel initiative grant. The high tunnel arrived by delivery on Saturday, 5/23 and about 1 ½ weeks later the project was complete. We managed to put most of the tunnel together with 1-2 people and then were so thankful to receive support from friends with a tractor to raise the bows to attach to the posts and again to install the cover for the roof. The high tunnel growing space is 30’x48’.

Once the high tunnel was built Tim created the planting rows, hooked up the drip tape watering system and I got to planting. Everything was planted in the garden by the time I started the high tunnel planting, it’ll be interesting to compare staggered plantings, ripening times, etc.

We’ll use the tunnel to extend our season on the front and back ends, as a place to plant sensitive plants (we just had an overnight frost on 6/13), increase our growing space, and allow us to produce more for ourselves and our community (produce for sale at our farm stand). The plants I’m most excited about in the high tunnel that we’ve struggled with outside are: eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes and tomatillos. While many of these grow in the outdoor garden, there were extra challenges we’ve met along the way, including in some cases never getting to the point of mature fruits/vegetables.

Now that the garden and high tunnel are planted, watering and keeping up with the weeding needs our attention until the produce starts coming. Until then, we’ll redirect to finishing up our major project, the cabin for vacation rental.  This project has been going on for over a year and we are very eager to have the construction done, the cabin furnished, and to begin welcoming guests to stay on the homestead as a place to rest, get back to nature, or see what homesteading is like.

Be well,

-L

3 Year Anniversary

Today we’re celebrating our 3 year anniversary at White Sky Woods Homestead. If you don’t know the origin story check out the original announcement, or read a little recap around this time 3 years ago, check it out.

Reflecting on it by looking around the homestead, the amount of hard work we’ve put in and infrastructure we’ve established…it feels like it’s been much longer than 3 years. Yet, memories of what daily life was like prior to the move are still fresh, so it somehow also barely feels like 3 years.

These past few months of pandemic shut downs has, as a friend noted, underlined, bolded and exclamation pointed the confirmation of what the homestead means in our life. We didn’t need more reasons to be thankful for being here, but we found more during this time.

Usually this time of year we have a large gathering of friends for our Yurt Life Celebration, Anniversary party. Because of restrictions and adjusting to the “new normal”, the party is not planned….for now. Past parties have been great food (potluck style), good friends having good conversation, new friendships forming, kids playing (and maybe getting stung by wasps…let’s not have that again), garden tours, ponds and woods hikes, bonfire enjoyment, and last year we even had instruments sing-alongs by the fire.

In reflection of today, I gathered some photos to highlight a bit about life around here as it is today. I’ve taken thousands of photographs over the past 3 years, but I’ll just share a few recent ones ;).

Sometimes I just step back and wonder…how did we get so fortunate?

Drone image of the central homestead area in winter. Image courtesy of Kristin Ojaniemi.

There are many quaint moments.

Witt, one of our oxen in training, grazing near the yurt.

And plenty of WTH moments.

Juneberry the goat, stuck in her hay feeder.

There is beauty across the landscape.

Quarry pond at winter.

And beauty in the little things; you have to be willing to look closely to observe it.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer on alder branch.

There is eating what we grow, make from scratch and forage.

Counter-clockwise L to R: Sauteed stinging nettle and asparagus, homemade rustic bread, and pizza casserole made with garden goods. Our anniversary meal!

There is growing healthy and humanely raised food for others.

Rabbits.

We share this land with our wild friends.

White-tailed deer enjoying a fall snack in our wildflowers.

And what were most thankful for are all the friends we’ve made here on the Keweenaw along with the friends and family who’ve come to visit and enjoy this place with us.

It’s been a grand 3 years! Thank you for following our journey!

Peace, love and nature,
-L

April 2020 Digest

Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I post the article here too.

05/02/20
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

It’s amazing what difference a month can make! The snow is gone. Green life is coming up from the ground, now we are just waiting for the trees to leaf out and really make it seem like spring here on the Keweenaw.

This week the focus will be hardening off and then planting some of our cole crops: broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Some snap peas and shelling peas have already been sown and another batch will be sown in another week. Carrots, parsnips and rutabaga seeds will find themselves in the ground in the upcoming days too. The garlic planted last fall and all our perennial plants are coming up nicely.

An exciting garden moment this spring was the harvest of our overwintered carrots and parsnips. Oh what a treat! Not only to go out there in the empty garden and pull out food, but the sweetness of the carrots and parsnips was out of this world!  It was our first year experimenting with overwintering these two crops in the ground and we will with certainty be doing it again and with a larger amount.

Carrots and parsnips after overwintering in the garden.

What we refer to as our north garden is almost completely cleaned up from the November snow storm. The fence is back in position, finally keeping the deer out!  All the downed branches have been cut and chipped and the last step is to remove the logs which will be used for firewood. It has several more plantings now too – 3 varieties of elderberry, 25 hazelnut, and 5 goji berries. Plus we’ve moved about 20 thornless blackberries plants from an unmaintained garden to the north garden along with some grapes. 

We are anxiously anticipating the coming of our high tunnel. It will be delivered in mid-May and then we’ll be spending the next few weeks assembling it. Along with this big project, we’re also working hard to finish up the work on the cabin in hopes to have it open this summer as a farm stay, AirBNB. Also in May and early June the remaining veggies will be planted in the garden and high tunnel. We’ve ramped up planting a bit in hopes to bring produce to our farm stand this year. It’s our first year with the farm stand! We are currently selling jams/jellies, fresh baked bread once a week, and soon wild-foraged herbal teas with the addition of fresh produce in the summer. In mid-May, we will also be expecting baby goats. Needless to say, May and early June are crunch time! We’re feeling the pressure as so many small farmers are, but the future is bright!

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Jacobsville Farm Stand (Guest Blog)

Note from Lisa: The following post is from a guest blogger, our 10-year old daughter, Flora.

Hi everyone! We have recently been working on building a farm stand! It is exciting to us because now we will offer our yummy homestead products to our local community. We will be sharing the farm stand with our neighbors Beth and Gene who own Circle Back Farm, they sell organic maple syrup. They have had a small maple syrup stand but this new one will be replacing it and will include produce and farm goods that our family grows and makes.

Here is how we built the farmstand:

First, my Dad and I did research on the internet to see what other farm stands looked like. We decided on what ours should look like and my Dad drafted a model on a computer program. I helped by taking notes on all the pieces and their measurements so we would be ready to build. Once we started building, we measured the lengths that our wood would have to be cut at and we cut the pieces of wood to their proper lengths. Next, we put the whole thing together with screws. The wood we used is milled by my Dad and is from local trees.

We had to do some problem solving on figuring out how our money slot was going to work. We also had to do some extra problem solving on how the roof was going to work and what it would be made of. Once we figured out we were going to make it out of metal, we had to cut the metal to the correct lengths. Then we had to stand on a ladder and screw the metal onto the roof frame. 

My favorite part of building the farm stand was the problem solving that was involved in building the farm stand. The reason I like the problem solving so much is because it really makes me think, come up with a new plan, and then test my new plan.

The farm stand will have jams and jellies, fresh produce, home baked bread, and hand foraged herbal tea from White Sky Woods. It will also have my favorite maple syrup from Circle Back Farm. There might be other new things during the season too!

The farm stand is be located on the side of the road near the mailbox at 40726 Red Rock Rd., Jacobsville. We hope you will come and check it out! 

This is me at the farm stand!

Note from Lisa: I’ll be posting product updates on Facebook and Instagram during the season. The early season will have our Forager’s Delight Fruit Spread for sale and 1 or more varieties of fresh baked rustic bread delivered by 10 a.m every Saturday (starting May 2nd). We also have duck eggs and rabbit available for sale, if interested in those, please contact me directly!

Real People, not Actors. 2 Videos to Watch this Weekend.

As we move into the second month of social distancing, we’re still keeping busy here. In a snapshot: we had a decent snowfall, I’ve been perfecting my rustic bread making skills (see below), also Tim took a break from the cabin and he and Flora built a produce stand (Flora is working on an upcoming blog post to tell you more about the produce stand!).

This kid loves bread!

We haven’t been bored, but I hear rumblings that others out there are. Might I humbly suggest some White Sky Woods entertainment? In the last two years we’ve met so many talented people, including a few that wanted to record and share our homestead journey. I see both of these videos as such a gift to us. Here are two videos you may enjoy watching:

The first program comes from 180 From Average. This video gives a tour of our homestead during our second summer of homesteading and shows a bit about yurt life.

This next one is from Kristin Ojaniemi, freelance videographer and producer at TV 6’s Discovering. It highlights a bit of what winter is like on the homestead, filmed mid-winter 2020. Take a snowshoe tour, forage, and meet the animals on the homestead tour!

Hope our friends, family, and followers are well, safe, and healthy!

Wishing you peace, love and time in nature,

-L

March 2020 Digest

Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I post the article here too.

04/05/20
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

While there are still spots with several inches of snow on the ground, it is retreating and the signs of spring are showing. The most obvious signs we’ve seen outside are that our chipmunks have come out of hibernation and a whole variety of new bird species are arriving!  I absolutely love the change of the seasons. Another obvious sign here is mud! The indoor sign of spring is seed starting! Currently growing includes: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and herbs. 

A big change is coming to our garden this year, in May we’ll start building our high tunnel. We received a grant through the NRCS Eqip High Tunnel program that provides the financial assistance to do this project. It will be a game changer in extending our season and allowing us to grow more food. Another project underway is building a produce stand that will be located at a neighbors. They currently have a small stand where they sell their maple syrup. The new stand will be a collaboration where we both sell our product. Primarily we’ll sell fresh produce as available, eggs, jams, jellies, and herbal tea blends.

Even with Coronavirus making a big impact on our local community and especially Keweenaw tourism, we’re still moving along working almost daily on the cabin renovations with hopes that the June completion date and opening as an AirBNB and homestead experience will not be delayed due to the virus. We’ve had several inquiries about staying this summer, so I’m feeling good we will have some rentals if the health of our nation improves and restrictions are lifted.

We’ve started the clean-up of trees that fell into the garden and crushed a long portion of the north garden’s fence during last November’s winter storm. As we clean up the trees that already fell, we’re recognizing that more will need to come down around the garden to avoid a repeat. The fence needs some major repairs, but it’ll just get patched together at this time – to stop the deer from getting into the garden. The garden affected is part of our new property addition and it includes perennials like asparagus, grapes and cultivated blueberry bushes and we have plans to plant elderberry in there, so protecting this space from the deer is essential. 

Tim, taking a break. This photo is taken from inside the north garden. What remains of the fence can be seen through the middle of the photo. Clean up is in progress, but there is a lot to do!

The heavy work season is here and I’m reminded of the exhaustion that exists at the end of the day (and sometimes even the beginning!). However, I’m also reminded that we’re working for ourselves and a perk of being your own boss is that we make the rules and that it’s ok to take a break from the work (although sometimes challenging when you have young kids, even your break isn’t a break!). 

We hope all of our extended small farmer community are well and weathering this storm, a different kind of storm than we are familiar with. 

A New Pace

How are you doing? Physically? Emotionally? Well, I hope. In this last week I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with friends and family more than we normally would. Out of concern for one another and also because we have more time to connect. How nice to have more time for one another (even if it’s not face-to-face). I know more time isn’t everyone’s way of life right now, depending on one’s profession or other factors. I also understand that more time isn’t everyone’s thing or that this “new” way of daily life is challenging for many.

During the past 2 weeks and the weeks coming up, I’ve found our number of off-the-homestead responsibilities to drop considerably, and it’s been relieving to watch the schedule clear. Our family has been greatly enjoying having more time to be freely navigating our days. Also, let’s face it, while we are generally very involved in our community and socially, we also are really content just being here on the homestead. So, this social distancing and staying home thing hasn’t really been all that challenging for us. I’m so grateful for that, I know it is very different for others. In fact, it’s been such an unexpected opportunity to just slow down and enjoy a more reasonable pace of life.

Tim has been working diligently on the cabin, the progress is excellent! I keep taking pictures, but it’s hard to convey before and after through them, so I haven’t shared any on social media, yet.

The kids have been playing outside, listening to podcasts, attending so many awesome webinars just for kids and building everything imaginable with LEGO bricks.

I’ve been enjoying a more relaxed approached to my work and homeschool time (I’ve found that I have more peace in these things because I’m not having to rush to perform them within the constraints of all the other commitments). The ukulele I bought 2 years ago? I’m practicing it daily now! I am working through some canning that I didn’t have time to finish in fall, wild plum jelly and chokecherry jelly so far. I’m enjoying baking bread. Preparing our meals also has a much more relaxed approach because I’m not trying to cram it into a crazy busy day. I’ve even had time to just sit and read! This pace has been cathartic.

As a family we’ve spent a lot of time getting fresh air outdoors, and indoors playing games, reading out loud, and building puzzles together. We’ve been keeping busy with homeschool (our normal thing anyhow), but finding ourselves much more relaxed since we don’t have other commitments to run to. We get all the same stuff done, but at a more relaxed pace which puts everyone in a better mood. I thought this photo pretty much sums it up.

Dave (our dog) and Woodland.

Overall, this new pace has been a treat. Yes, we are feeling worry about the impact of COVID-19 on our family and friends and global society – the concern is constant. But I am hopeful that this time where we’re making history will result in some positive long-term change.

Friends, what have you been doing? Read any good books lately? How are you spending your time? Tell us in the comments below. Or find us on Facebook & Instagram to keep in touch!

Sincere wishes for the well-being of your whole self.

Peace, Love, & Nature,

-L

February 2020 Digest

Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I post the article here too.

03/03/20
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

The unusually warm temps (30’s) have us all in the mood for the spring thaw. But, as the calendar turns to March we realize that there are still plenty of opportunities for crazy winter weather to come our way. Our current efforts are focused on planning the garden, reviewing our seed selection to decide what we’re good on and what seeds we need to purchase and lastly, starting our tomato, cucumber, pepper, and other selected vegetables and herb seeds inside.  

In just a few weeks several varieties of plants will be started inside!

Winter days have allowed us to have time for planning the business budget and planning our project calendar. The project calendar serves as a snapshot of the projects and our goal completion dates and almost always coincides with the budget. The biggest projects are the end of spring; we’ll be building our high tunnel, finishing the construction on and then opening the vacation rental cabin on our homestead, and prepping and planting the garden. After that (by mid-June) we’re hoping to keep projects to a minimum (small projects only) to allow more flexibility in our days. We’ll see how this goal plays out! 

Last summer, one of my favorite things was wild edible foraging. With the help of my kids we picked wild raspberry leaves, wild strawberry leaves, Labrador tea, pineapple weed, St. John’s Wort, wild blackberry leaves, mint, red clover, stinging nettle and more. We never had to leave our own property to harvest, the wild edibles are plentiful for our own needs here. My hopes were that we could harvest enough to supply our family a year’s supply of loose leaf herbal tea, which we succeed in! Everything harvested has medicinal properties, but we use them in tea for general wellness – no specific dosing to treat particular health needs. I’ve recently had time to sort through all the foraged goodies we harvested and dried, and I created two yummy tea blend recipes. One is a blend that highlights St. John’s wort for the long winter, and the other is a blend that highlights pineapple weed which gives a fruity flavor but has calming properties. If this summer’s wild foraging harvest is anything like last, I’ll sell small batches of loose leaf and individually bagged teas alongside fresh produce, eggs, jams and jellies this summer. I shared some more details about the tea blends on our blog recently, and also have asked readers for creative names for each blend, perhaps you have a few you’d like to share?

If you haven’t already, how about following us on Facebook & Instagram?

Cheers! Peace, Love and Nature,

-L

Name that tea! Really.

Right now many gardeners, homesteaders, and the like are getting jazzed about the upcoming planting season. But here I am with projects still lingering from the summer and fall harvest of 2019. Once I wrap these up, I know I’ll feel more clear and ready to accept the upcoming growing season! I’ve been wanting to do these lingering projects, but you know…..time. Left on my list includes:

Chokecherry juice and wild plum juice I made and froze that needs to be thawed for jelly making. Yum!

A huge bowl of frozen tomato sauce that needs to be thawed and canned (I ran out of jars at the end of the season).

A bin filled with mason jars packed full of various edibles and medicinals we foraged throughout the summer.

In most of these jars are “weeds” that are known by some for being a nuisance on their lawn, and by others for their healing properties. An example is Pineapple Weed. This relative of chamomile smells like pineapple when crushed and adds a bright, fruity flavor when brewed in a tea. I picked, washed, and dehydrated a bunch this summer and have been adding it to my loose berry leaf teas. Like true chamomile, it can be used for relaxation.

My long-term intention with my jars full of foraged and dehydrated goodies is to create small batches of unique herbal tea blends for my own enjoyment and ultimately to develop recipes that I can repeat and use to create product for sale. The herbal tea blends are for flavor enjoyment and general wellness (not specific medicinal use). The ingredients are 100% harvested at White Sky Woods. All winter long I’ve been enjoying my random blends; I haven’t had to buy any tea from the store!

It was time. I finally I sat down, measured, documented, mixed, and individually bagged two final recipes! They have been taste tested and approved and I hope to have a small amount of handcrafted herbal teas for sale this summer.

So here’s the thing, before I sell this product, both handcrafted blends need a name! Here’s where you come in. 😉 Below are the descriptions of each herbal tea blend. If you have a creative idea for a name that matches the product, please make your suggestion. If I use your suggestion, I’ll give/send you 10 bags of whichever herbal tea blend you prefer (or a combo including both). Read the descriptions below and send me an e-mail if you’re inspired with a name (or names)!

The first recipe’s flavor could be described as a warm and earthy blend. It was created with the idea of comfort and chasing the winter blues away. It includes: wild raspberry leaf, wild strawberry leaf, wild blueberry leaf, stinging nettle, St. John’s wort, and bergamot leaf.

The second recipe is bright and soothing – the taste of a relaxing summer day. It has a sweet scent and a would be delightful either hot or cold. It’s a blend of wild strawberry leaf, wild raspberry leaf, and pineapple weed.

Homemade herbal tea in my Grandma’s antique tea cup.

I’m looking forward to your name suggestions! For now, it’s tea time. Cheers!

-L

January 2020 Digest

Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I post the article here too.

1/31/20
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

Winter snowfall of over 130” for this season thus far has been keeping us physically active with snow removal around the homestead, keeping fences clear and pathways open for the animals (and humans). In late November we received a whopper of a storm that brought down a dozen or more trees around our home, barn, and gardens, and many many more across our hiking trails throughout our property. That storm left us without power for 60 hours. Spring clean-up is on our minds, especially where garden infrastructure was damaged, but it will be 2-3 months from now before the snow is clear enough to get to work. 

A major relief we have for timber clean up is the support we’ll receive from our young steer in training (when they are 4 years old we can officially call them oxen). They’ll help us with skidding out logs, moving tree tops, and transporting wood chips. At 9 months old, we’re greatly impressed with their strength and intelligence and are excited to put them to work in spring. They just got fitted with their first yoke (made on the homestead) and until the work starts they’ve been training by pulling the kids around on the sled, much to the joy of both calves and kids!

Nels (left) & Witt (right) training with their new handmade yoke.

A benefit of a long winter is having more time for projects and play. A fun and practical project this winter was our do-it-yourself kicksled! Tim and the kids built this together, starting with a pair of old skis. The kicksled is a daily play routine for the kids and also has been a great tool for moving items from home to barn to pole shed. Using it or getting a ride puts a smile on everyone’s face!

Winter has more time for unique projects!

We recently attended the Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference, a part of our journey of improving knowledge; learning new things and unlearning old ones. Our day at the Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference was great! We split up at sessions to gather the most information and then went out for dinner afterwards to talk over all our takeaways. From bees, to rabbits, to medicinal herbs, to woodlot management, and beyond, now we’re even more ready for our 2020 homesteading year!

Lastly, staying active during our long winters has been such an important part of our winter wellness. Since I’m out several times a week snowshoeing our property and I love sharing nature with people, I’m offering AirBNB “Experience” snowshoe and homestead tours. It’s a great way to stay active, enjoy the long winter, share our way of life with others, and drive a small amount of business revenue.

If you haven’t already, how about following us on Facebook & Instagram?

Cheers! Peace, Love and Nature,

-L