May 2019 Digest

Each month I submit a piece to be published in the MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. It 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. The following is the original article with a bonus recipe for our personal blog readers.

5/27/19
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

After a long winter where we received the greatest amount of snow and tough winter weather since the 1980’s (as we were told by locals and confirmed by local snow measures); we have reimagined a few ways to bring our animals closer for water and feeding access and into a better building that will keep them more comfortable in winter. We’ve just completed putting up the new pen for the rabbits. The rabbits are colony-raised on pasture, so they have a large area where they have dirt piles to dig, brush piles to hide in and plenty of space for hopping. This will be our first year offering rabbit meat to our local community. We have a small interested group and look forward to bringing healthy, ethically-raised meat to our community. Next will be moving the chickens and ducks from their large poultry yard over to a free-range area with a better insulated coop for them to go in at night. We will be watching closely with the switch between the poultry yard to free-range, we’re hoping we do not have too much trouble with predators.

Now that the grass is (finally!) green, the goats go out to pasture daily and are enjoying a full buffet of fresh grass, weeds, and sticks. If goats can smile, these ones sure are!

Buck Norris, June Berry, and Alder enjoying fresh pasture.

Garden planting is almost complete. Early crops went in the week of 5/13: peas, carrots, onions, beets, parsnips. Other standards like squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers all go in around Memorial Day. Our favorite crop is always the variety of beans we grow for drying. A favorite we grew last year was cannellini, a beautiful white bean that soaks and cooks quickly, it’s soft and buttery and is the perfect complement to a slow-cooked portion of our own pasture-raised pork.

The major undertaking we have this summer is improving an old homestead cabin on our property. Our goal is to open it as an AirBNB (Spring 2020) where people can either come to “get away from it all” and/or engage in learning experiences around our homestead. The first step is siding the cabin – we hope to complete this before the mosquitos come out in full force!

As spring greens up, the kids and I have enjoyed finding all the new life surrounding us – from dandelions, to caterpillars, to tadpoles! Our kitchen table is never short of a freshly picked arrangement of dandelions – haha! Each year we try to forage new things available to us naturally growing around our property. Our most enjoyable foraging experiment this year so far has been Dandelion Flower Cookies!

The cookies were a huge hit, find the recipe here: Dandelion Flower Cookies

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.

berryface.jpg
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!