July 2019 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’ll post the article here too.

7/29/19
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

What happened to all those blooms I mentioned in last month’s post? Fruit! The strawberries, cherries, juneberries, and blueberries are in varying phases of ripening. There are a lot of fruit on all of the plants and the ones that have ripened – the taste is spectacular! Jam and jelly making will begin soon and I’m hoping the heat will break so it’s not so hot working in the kitchen. Later fruits like chokecherry and apples have a while still. I can be patient, there is plenty to do in the meantime.

We had our first zucchini harvest in late July. The harvest began late this year because we had some troubles hardening off our squash plants. We grew them inside, spent good time hardening them off, planted them in the garden and then found all the plants dead about a week later (not a frost kill off, we suspect sun scald). Because of this, all the winter and summer squash were direct sown to the garden as seeds but I’m hopeful we’ll still have an excellent crop at the end of it all. Many other veggies are coming in: shelling peas, beets, spinach, and trilogy beans. We’ve been picking cabbage and found that a great way to enjoy them is to slice in thick (2 inch) pieces, season with garlic, salt, and pepper, wrap in foil and put them on the grill on low setting for approximately 35 minutes. 

Now that the heat seems to be breaking (someone please tell the chickens, they’ve been “on strike” and haven’t been laying), working in the garden and around the homestead will be more bearable. Many projects went on hold during the last 3 weeks of hot and humid weather and I’m now feeling the pressure of preserving the harvest. We continue to sell “extras” to local neighbors and friends.

Our duck, Rose, and her brood of 14 ducklings.

New faces around the homestead include a brood of 14 ducklings that hatched off one of our ducks nest. Also, it’s confirmed that our two doe goats are expecting! The physical changes in them are apparent and sometime in late August kids should be born. This will be our first birthing experience with goats. We’re looking forward to seeing what it will be like here with goat kids around and also to enjoy the milk the girls provide. Next on the docket is learning basic cheese making skills!

June 2019 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’ll post the article here too.

6/29/19
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

Up here on the Keweenaw, we’ve finally bloomed! Everything seemed to come alive during the middle 3 weeks of June (with exception of our favorite first blooms, Serviceberry, which is always the first bloom and happened in May). If the amount of flowers on our wild and cultivated fruit trees and berries are any sign of the fruit crop this year, it should be a good one! While walking around our land we hear the constant serenade of our native pollinators. Last year’s strawberry harvest was strong, and with last year’s preservation efforts is still feeding our family. With that, this year we’ll be selling strawberries to friends and families in our small local community. This year’s crop is growing nicely and should be ripe for the picking throughout July (depending on the variety). 

With the temperatures moving out of the 50’s and 60’s and into some steady 70’s in late June, it seems our garden has finally come alive! This means the weeds are growing nicely too, oy!  My attempts at doing a small amount of weeding daily seems to make no impact. We have found a positive in all these weeds though. A “weed” known as purslane is a delightful treat to eat while working in the garden. Another plentiful “weed”, lamb’s quarters, is a tasty and nutritious wild green. This one we pick and either dry to use as a flavorful herb sprinkle or to add to soups made in winter, or we cook fresh leaves in the skillet like spinach.

Homegrown meal, fresh eggs, asparagus, and nettle.

Screening compost is another project that is now done. How nice it is to have a free means of building nutrition in our soil! We have 3 large compost bins, 1 that was resting and 2 that were actively being added to. The resting bin has now been scooped, screened, and applied to the garden and has become the active bin. The other two bins are now resting, 1 will be ready next summer and the other will be in 2 years. We hope to continue that cycle. Our bins are built up of any food scraps that come from us (that the animals don’t eat), weeds pulled from the garden, coffee grounds from a local restaurant, and hay and manure that gets mucked out from the animals. 

Working on the compost, screening for use in the garden.

Exciting progress for our new business (est. January 2019), we now have a logo!  You can see it (and other homestead happenings) on our Facebook page or shared through Instagram.

I Can Berrily Stand It

The last few weeks we’ve been eating berries.  Lots of them! This year, the berries are sooooo good that I can berrily stand it! (<—see what I did there? Ha!)

One of our major joys this July has been foraging for berries.  Since we have a full summer of experience here at the homestead now, we know more where to look and what to look for when foraging.  We’ve been visiting our property for over 8 summers, but this one by far has given us the best looking, most tasty, and massive quantities of berries. Now, if I could only find more time to pick!  I’ve been putting the kids to work to help out.  Flora, 8, is fairly useful.  Woodland, 4, well…..he’s really good at eating the berries, as you can see by the proof here.

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Let a 4 year old forage berries, and you get this!

This season’s ripe berries include juneberries (also known as serviceberry or other names depending on regionality), blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. We have all of these on our homestead growing wildly (I am a lucky lucky girl!). The Keweenaw thimbleberries are coming into season too, but I have to travel off our homestead to pick those, and I haven’t gone out for this season’s haul yet. Soon.

What to do with all these berries? Well, our favorite is fresh eating. The kind of fresh where it never makes it to the house because you just eat your way through the bushes.  This reminds me of one of our favorite books, Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (see the book read here). The kids and I are definitely kindred spirits with little Sal and baby bear.

Wild blueberries in hand.
Yea, I ate all these wild blueberries.

Another way to use the berries if you don’t eat them all is to make jam. As a busy family of 4, I’ll admit, we eat PBJ sandwiches at least one meal a week….if not more *wink*.  I have no shame in this, especially when I’ve made enough jam from the strawberries and coming up from the juneberries and blueberries to last us at least a year. There is nothing sweeter than jam made with berries from our own homestead and made with love, by me.

Yet another way is preserves….as close to berry eating as you can get in winter. Delightful on yogurt, french toast, pancakes, or a dutch baby. Lastly, creating a syrup is also a dandy of a way to get that fresh berry flavor.

Our favorite find this year has been the juneberries. When fully ripe, these beauties are plump and taste like a combination between a blueberry and a concord grape. YUM – gimmie more!  The trees they grow on are scrawny but tall so a ladder is a necessity in picking these. I’ll go pretty well any distance and out of my comfort zone for berries.  They are in the rankings of my favorite food and an unsteady ladder is the risk I will take to eat them!

Juneberries on tree.
Picking with friends makes for great memories!

My favorite thing about picking berries is not necessarily the taste, full belly, or canned goods – it’s the memories made.  Memories of this time of year, memories of the summer weather (and bugs that come with it!), the key life moments taking place, and having great conversation with friends while picking. Summer in the Keweenaw. These are the days!

3 Ways to Warm Yourself in Winter

The sun is shining, but darn….it’s COLD! 1 degree Farenheit, but feels like -11 with the windchill. Thank goodness for the routine of heading outside in the morning and evening to care for our animals, otherwise I’m not sure I would have any reason to leave the house on days this cold. For the first few minutes of pig and chicken chores, I actually like the cold air. It’s a definite wake-me-up! But, when my fingers and toes start to tingle, then the enjoyment fades. So far, our 2 pigs and 7 chickens seem to be hanging in there. Our hens are still laying eggs! Now that’s a superpower.

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Happy, snowy pigs.

Over the past 2 months we’ve had our share of snow (about 2 1/2 feet of snow on the ground here, but other local areas have experienced MUCH more). We’ve also had our share of fluctuating temperatures, ranging from 39 degrees to -20 degrees Farenheit. During our first winter here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we’re quickly learning some important ways to stay warm.

1.) Wear the right clothes for the weather!

I’m doing my best to embrace the Norwegian Quote: “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.” I’ve quickly learned that what counts is wearing layers. At any given time, including inside, I have 3 layers on my top and 2 on my bottom. It seems obvious maybe, but this really makes a difference – albeit a pain in the butt for getting dressed, getting undressed, and doing laundry!  Warm socks and a decent underlayer are necessities. For outdoor chores I’ve also decided that looking scary in my balaclava is a must for warmth. It freaks out the kids, but my face stays oh so warm!

2.) Being “lazy” is okay!

I used to think that watching movies or lingering around the house for too long was being lazy. But, this slow down is exactly what winter here is all about. It also has allowed us to have more time to start new habits doing things that always were pushed aside before because we didn’t have time.

Our homeschool Nature Journal for instance. The kids are having a fun time with it, but I think I am equally or more engaged with it! Sometimes we are inspired from trips outside, but on very cold days we observe from our windows – taking time to enjoy the chickadees, or the deer and turkey that have now become very comfortable with yurt life as well.

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3.) Nothing warms you up more than good friends.

On New Years Day we hosted our first annual “Dessert at the Yurt”. I prepared several sweet treats that were themed by our homestead (made with goods from our own garden) or inspired by the Keweenaw area. For instance, “Not Your Garden Variety Zucchini Bread”, a Chocolate Zucchini Bread and “Snow on Top Basalt”, Oreo Trifle. The food was good, but the company was even better. Since our move in June, we’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many good people here on the Keweenaw and growing friendships with them.

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First Annual “Dessert at the Yurt”

Worried about space in our yurt, we managed to comfortably fit 17 adults and 8 kids! During and reflecting afterwards, our hearts were so warm. We have so much gratitude and love for our new community and friends. We have not experienced such an amazing community before. So many brilliant minds and beautiful souls surrounded us at this gathering. How is it possible to not feel warmed (hypothetically, of course) when surrounded by that?

One friend described the yurt as “wrapping it’s warm arms around you.”  Yes!

Wishing you winter warmth.

Peace, Love and Nature,

-L