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.
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?
An odd title for a blog, I know. But, as a homesteader I’ve learned that a balance is needed for having and caring for farm animals. I see myself needing and applying my self-made farm animal “Triad of Balance”. The triad goes like this:
1.) Care deeply for the well-being of the animals.
2.) Don’t get too attached to them.
3.) Remember their purpose.
We run a very frugal budget so we vow that everyone and everything that is on this homestead has a purpose. For instance, goats are for milk and mowing, not for pets. Do they get spoiled with extra attention and yummy fresh food treats? Yeah, they totally do. But ultimately their purpose here needs to be met, or they aren’t a match for here.
There have been a few times when my farm animal triad of balance was challenged. One specific instance that comes to mind is when we decided it was time to butcher Frannie, our mama pig. After knowing her for almost 2 years, seeing her birth and raise piglets, and attending to her care 2 or more times each day, parting with her was a bit tough. I still miss having her smiling face around. (Cue the farm animal “Triad of Balance” to help cope.)
Today was the first very cold day of the winter season here, around 12 degrees overnight. In the morning we went out for chores and everyone seemed to be doing fine except there was a bit of concern for Pixel, one of our original chickens. This past summer Pixel became the target for establishing the pecking order in the flock and was badly injured by too many pecks to the head (you guys, chickens can be cruel). We seperated her and gave her some special care in a seperate outdoor pen until she was better. But, she never was 100% better. She was unable to keep her balance sometimes and only one eye would open completly. But, she didn’t seem to be in pain and she was still laying her daily egg (even beyond the time period the other chickens gave up for the season). So, she moved in with the ducks and rabbits and her co-habitation was a success for many months. This afternoon we found her dead. The cold must have been just too much. RIP Pixel. (Cue the farm animal “Triad of Balance” to help cope.)
Upon finding Pixel our daughter also recognized that one of our roosters, Big Boy, was out on the snow hopping around on one foot. She picked him up and saw that his one foot was completely frozen, unable to move. Upon this discovery, the kids came running to get help. Now, what were we to do with a rooster with a frozen foot? The temps aren’t increasing and leaving him in that condition would be certain death.
Honestely, I have formed some opinions of those who share their home with their farm animals. Sharing it with them at all, or for what I would consider to be too long of a time. Or, I’ve seen where people get attached and next thing they know they have their duck wrapped up in bed with them. That type of care may be for some, but that is not for me. I’m not keen on having duck poop in my bed. However, I do have a big heart for the well-being of our critters and I will do what I can within what I’ve established to be reasonable ways to help our animals. They deserve our care and attention just like a friend would.
So Big Boy came inside.
Moving animals from temperature extremes can actually be very harmful to them. So, the kids brought him in and sat by the woodstove. Within 10 minutes his foot was thawed and he became mobile and very interested in exploring. His soft coo’ing and clucking was pretty sweet. But that was my cue to get him back outside and into an area where he’d be better protected from the cold. We fed him some leftover corn pone as a treat and out he went.
Now, if my farm animal triad of balance was out of whack, that rooster might have joined us for dinner! Trust me, the kids would have not complained, ha! But, he’s an outdoor animal, he has a safe place to stay out there, and he’s better now.
Friends, it’s been so, so busy. Please don’t read this sentiment as a complaint, I’m not complaining, I’m one of those people who enjoys staying busy! But, I do need to be honest. Keeping up with the hustle involved with tending the garden, collecting the harvest, preparing and then perserving it in a timely manner can be exhausting. I like to compare these assiduous 3’ish months of harvest and food preservation to the time a non-homesteading person would take to earn money for food, plan for shopping, travel to and from the grocery store, walk around the grocery store shopping, and finally a portion of time spent preparing the food…but all done in mid-day hours of about 3 months time. It’s worth the effort. A bonus of being responsible for our own food is that we get the relief of knowing where our food comes from and saving thousands of dollars a year.
Add to the above: 2 kids having the “best summer ever”, Tim working his regular job, me fullfilling contract work, me planning a year of homeschool, a social life that I’m so grateful for, renovating the cabin for rental, caring for the animals (oh my, we have over 30 babies animals in rabbit and duck form here, with goat kids on the way), getting ready for winter heat needs by splitting wood, hauling and storing hay, and caring for ourselves – it’s so important to just stop it all and……breathe. I know we all feel this way, this overwhelm, no matter what phase of life we’re in or what commitments we have. It’s so very important we make space for downtime. We do this by enjoying a hike in the woods, spending time at the beach, laying in the hammock, or unwinding with friends over a bonfire.
Alright, I’ve spent enough time on words for now. Plus, it’s almost time to do chores. Here are some images that give a snapshot of projects in the last two weeks:
Before the rumors start, NO, our family is not growing. No, we aren’t expecting any cute baby animals (well, yet). I only used that catchy title to trick you. Ha! But now I’ve got you, and I do have something important to share. It’s a big new project that will lead to this: we’re expecting VISITORS!
An unbelievable opportunity arrived, we were given an offer to purchase 160 acres, contingent to and north of our current homestead. The property has some awesome natural features along with a small home that is there from the original family that owned ours and the surrounding land. We had always dreamed of adding this property to our own, but had no idea it would come so soon.
Well, we are excited to say that we are now the official owners of this new property! It will become a beautiful extension of our own homestead, giving us new opportunities for fields, gardens, and places to graze the animals. It also will be a big part of White Sky Woods Homestead, LLC as we will be renovating the home on the property an converting it to vacation rental/AirBNB. Guests will have the option of getting fresh eggs, goods and produce during their stay, grown right from our homestead. A stay will also offer the option of “experiences”. The experiences will be homestead and nature-focused. They will allow guests to grow their understanding and connection to nature (think: guided hikes, identifying wildflowers) and/or the homesteading way of life (think: lessons on yogurt making, bread making, caring for animals, etc.). Families will also be able to choose experiences that are aimed specifically for children.
It may not look like more than an unfinished structure behind a heap of snow, but with some finishing touches and improvements, it will be a place for people to get away from it all (we’re truly off the beaten path) and enjoy the peace, while adding a touch of homestead life experience to their stay…if they like.
As the snow thaws, the work will begin. As with our homestead journey and yurt build, I’ll be documenting it on social media (Facebook & Instagram), follow along! We intend to be open for guests starting in late spring, 2020.
Have you vacationed at a homestead, farm, ranch, or specialized vacation rental or AirBNB? What did you love about it? What could have been better? Please let me know!
Happy Pi Day! It’s March fourteenth, synonymously know as Pi Day for how it aligns with the date on the calendar – 3/14 also the first 3 digits of Pi, 3.14. The kids and I recently attended an event celebrating the number Pi. They did many activities to understand the number and how it is used. One fun activity was creating Piku’s. Not a Haiku, which is a poem that consists of 3 lines where the first and last lines of a Haiku have 5 syllables and the middle line has 7 syllables. In a Piku, it also is made of 3 lines, but the lines are 3 syllables, 1 syllable, and 4 syllables, 3.14, Pi. Inspired by our homestead and the theme of Pi day, each of us has written a few Homestead themed piku’s. Enjoy!
Some days I step in poop a lot. -Tim
Homesteading just where I belong! -Lisa
Chickens cluck like this Bawk Bawk Bawk! -Woodland
The silly goats gasy, gasy. -Flora
Today I ran from a very large pig. -Tim (so, Tim took some liberties with the number of syllables, but that’s poetic license, right? Ha!)
Our poultry/rabbit yard is a fenced off area meant to keep predators out and give our chickens, ducks, and rabbits a fair amount of space to roam. The fence is 5 feet tall. The size of the area becomes less and less accessible to the animals as more snow comes. We always shovel around the chicken coop (chickshaw), duck shelter, and feeding and watering areas. However, we let the snow take over the rest, it would be impossible to keep up with a shovel and the blower doesn’t fit in there (although that would be terrifying to the animals anyhow). The ducks and rabbits still wander in the deeper snow, but the chickens are “chicken” and pretty much stay in or very near the chickshaw.
Last week, before the blizzard that brought 18 inches of new snow and drifts taller than 5 feet, I noticed something odd as I looked out toward the poultry yard. I saw two of our rabbits VERY near the fenceline. When I say near the fence line, I’m not referring to them just being near the perimeter, but also at the TOP of the perimeter. Remember, the fence is 5 feet tall. All the snow that has been falling throughout the season (estimated over 200 inches), has been piling up. Plus, all the snow we’ve been shoveling out of the “living” area has been piling up on top of that. The other day we saw a Blizzard Warning issued for our community. Since the rabbits were already almost able to leap out over the 5 foot fence, we knew we had to get to work.
We spent several hours clearing out as much as we could, including taking the snow piles we’ve been shoveling onto down away from the top of the fence and widening all the snow paths in the poultry/rabbit yard. We cleared out the whole pig pen, shoveled off the roof to the shed and cleared out as much of the goat area as we could.
The trick is, we’re doing all this by hand, and therefore the snow around the edge of these areas is starting to pile up. We knocked down those piles as much as possible knowing we would need to add more. There is only so far we can throw and only so many places we can move the snow. We do not have a machine that can scoop up and lift out the snow.
Then the blizzard came. 18 inches of snow was really nothing, that we can handle. Then the 50-60 mph winds started and lasted nearly 24 hours. We cleared twice during this time, but overnight was when the really crazy wind happened. We lost power at home, but thanks to a stockpile of food and a woodstove, there wasn’t much to worry about inside. As we slept, we had no idea what was happening outside.
In the morning, the sun came out and the power was on. We went out to clear out so we could get the animals fed and watered. 3 hours later it was as good as it was going to get. Once the temps go up again, they are currently lingering between 0 degrees Fahrenheit and 10 degrees Fahrenheit, we’ll go out and continue to clear. The series of pictures below depict some of the results of the blizzard.
There is no doubt that homesteading keeps us on our toes. It challenges our problem solving skills always, which I actually do enjoy! Prior to the blizzard, we had reimagined our livestock housing areas since we’ve really struggled with watering all winter, especially on days under 0 degrees F when the water we provide freezes almost immediately. We hadn’t thought about fencing height for the rabbits with our new plans, but now we have!
After the challenges we were presented with this winter, new animal housing plans and locations have been designed on paper, now we wait until the snow melts to make the changes.
Like every summer here, it’s going to be a busy one! But we have awesome plans and big changes coming. There is never a dull moment here – good thing, what would I blog about otherwise? 🙂
Have you had an idea you thought was crazy therefore you shut it down and it barely crossed your mind again? Or how about a crazy idea you just couldn’t shut down, no matter how impractical it seemed? Well, that’s the kind of idea that brought us to living in a yurt and fulfilling our dreams at White Sky Woods Homestead. People often ask how we decided on and ended up doing this homesteading thing. A book could be written about the journey that slowly started over a decade ago, but I’ll spare you. 🙂 Instead, here’s a brief origin story.
In 2008, Tim and I had ideas of having property that eventually would be a small homestead where we could live a more self-reliant life, a more environmentally sustainable life. A life where we weren’t caught up in a rat race of making bigger incomes and buying newer and better material items. We didn’t know if this was our picture of retirement (I was 29 years old at the time), or undertaking a major life change that would get us to that place sooner.
As we talked lots of ideas arose, everything from off-grid cabin in the woods to building a yurt and everything far and in between, which is A TON of options.
If anything was going to happen, we’d have to start by searching for land. We knew we wanted a piece of land over 40 acres but we had somewhat of a limited budget. We wanted a sizeable land so we could wander, explore, and also so we had some extra privacy (I am a total introvert… don’t hate). A short time into the land search, we found our beautiful 80 acres on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Upper Michigan. The first thing anyone asks when they know we moved here is “how to you decide on the Keweenaw?” Hmmmm…….it was chance I guess? Ha! I’d love to say this was a seriously thought and planned our purchase where we weighed all our options, but it wasn’t. We came to the property, snowshoed in during January and put an offer in the next business day. We had not looked at any other properties prior to that, and we had never been to the Keweenaw Peninsula. Everything felt right then and to this day, it still does!
A few weeks after our purchase we found out we were expecting our first child. Woah! Anxiety set in wondering how we would afford daycare and our homesteading pursuits, whatever it was going to look like. That summer before our daughter was born we purchased a small, old camper and parked it on our property, visiting as often as possible to experience the land. It was a 4.5 hour drive, so while it wasn’t practical to be there every weekend, we did travel quite a bit. Every time we visited, we dreamed up ideas.
The next spring, we quickly realized our crummy camper wasn’t going to be a wonderful place to sleep with an infant. It was time for an upgrade. Over the course of a few visits, Tim built our small one room shelter, referred to as the “Cider House” because of its location surrounded by many old apple orchard trees. He built, and while our daughter Flora napped or played on a blanket, I would help with lumber cuts. It was built on a tight budget with materials purchased from Craigslist and Restore.
For years we came, dreamed, went, and dreamed some more. Over the years we progressed in our careers, we had our son Woodland, we learned more about self-reliance and experimented with things like beekeeping, meat rabbits, making yogurt, homestead type skills like spinning wool, canning and scratch food. We worked and worked and in turn saved and saved money. In 2013 we felt it was time to start making dreams come true, or at least establishing a more concrete way to make this happen. We worked with a yurt company and designed our yurt with plans to start building in the summer of 2014. It took working extended weekends over 2 summers, and our yurt was almost live-in ready. The spring of 2017 we passed final building inspection. We also made the decision that instead of waiting until the kids were older or for us to retire, that NOW was the time. More details on this in the blog I posted at that time.
Did we know exactly what life on a homestead would look like for us? No. Do we now? Nope, the idea of that just makes me laugh. It’d be like planning a newborn’s entire life – impossible! Yes, you can have ideas of what your values are how you may fulfill them, but ultimately it seems best planned in periods of time, sometimes down to the day or minute. 🙂
It was a really big idea on a pretty small budget. Now, here we are. There are times (especially when looking at our finances along the way) that I wanted to give up. Instead of giving up, we just slowed down or slightly shifted direction, providing more time and assuring more security for us was definitely best for our family (nothing on a whim).
Big change is not for everyone. I’ve always been a very planned, realistic, and driven by logic type of person – and while quitting a successful career to live in a yurt on a homestead doesn’t match this description…there was a fire burning inside me that I knew I had to address. Thankfully Tim had this fire too and we could dream this together! 11 years have passed since our ideas starting turning into real decisions and 1.5 years have passed since we moved and made the 180 degree shift in life. The rat race seems years behind us. The reality of our dreams is now and there is so much more still ahead of us.
Do you have any really big ideas for your future? Add a comment to this blog and write your big idea(s) here – or just write them down somewhere! If you don’t put it out there, it may never happen.
A year and a half has come and gone since our move to the homestead in June, 2017. Did I have any idea the major amount of work and progress we would have achieved in the first year and a half? Nope! Although sometimes it’s hard to see it through my own perspective because I usually see things as what needs to be done, rather than spending time thinking about what has been done. It’s the comments by visitors that helps me see the amount of hard work we’ve put into our homestead in such little time. We’ve often heard things like “how long have you been here, a decade or so?” or “I can’t believe how much you’ve achieved in such little time.”
In winter, it brings me an even clearer perspective of the past. While we’ve lived here for a year and a half, almost all the major outdoor work is done May through October since those are the months when weather generally cooperates for projects to take place and the ground is not frozen. No wonder we are so busy all summer!
The start of 2019 brings even more growth. Our exciting homestead announcement is that we officially launched our business – White Sky Woods Homestead, LLC! In 2019, we’ll be expanding our ethically and pasture-raised meat to hogs and rabbits. Being an LLC will allow us to invest in better systems on our homestead that will benefit people and animals. It will allow us to further educate ourselves and therefore offer more services around the products we offer.
Our intention for our homestead continues to be a focus on self-reliance and sustainability. However, we’ve found it to be very pleasing to bring ethically raised, high-quality meat product to other people who are interested in finding this locally. We are so thankful for our 2018 buyers, and are stoked for what will come of 2019!
Maybe you’ve purchased a pasture-raised hog, maybe you’re a new friend or you know us from our pre-homesteading life. Perhaps being like-minded, you’ve stumbled across us on social media or the web. All of the support by words of encouragement, a simple like on our social posts, or the purchase of a pasture-raised hog is meaningful to where we are headed with our new business. THANK YOU ALL!
A big part of our move here to the homestead was about the opportunity to be more independent, especially in terms of our food and finances. Gaining this type of independence requires some serious drive, sometimes hard work, and an “I can do this!” confidence and grit.
Often it’s hard to reflect on the day-to-day things that happen because you’re just in the mode of moving right along. Today I had a chance to reflect on the idea of being confident and independent. And it wasn’t my own confidence and independence, it’s my kids.
I’m not going re-hash the article, I hope you just go ahead and read it. After I read the article it reminded me of some play the kids had just the other night. It was dark (cause that’s what it does here after 5:30 p.m. in winter) and the kids wanted to go out and play. My kids, 4 & 9, and a friend aged 9, got bundled up in their snow gear. Each of them were equipped with headlamps for seeing in the dark (their initiative to do so). They also made sure we had a walkie talkie and that ours and theirs were in communication. Off they went, playing in the cold, snow, and dark. While the kids played, it allowed me and my friend to enjoy tea and good conversation by the woodstove. Besides our conversation, the yurt was quiet, which is a real rare thing, ha!
Probably about an hour passed and we heard communication over the walkie talkie – “we’re having fun, but we’re coming in now!” In they came, smiles on their faces, excitedly talking. After dumping their snow gear near the woodstove to dry it, they loudly explained to us that they had “worked on something in the woods” and that we’d have to wait until daylight to see it. We received clues, including that rock pebbles were involved.
The next day we were all together again and going for a hike through the woods. The kids were really excited because they wanted us to see what they had done. A short ways from the yurt, but at a place where the yurt was completely out of sight, we got to where they had been the night before.
There stood a SNOWMAN! Built away from home, in the dark by the light of headlamps, and with absolutely no adult intervention. In my eyes, this snowman is the perfect symbol for raising confident and independent children. I’m sure I had the biggest smile on my face, but the smiles of excitement and pride on their faces was way more rewarding.
Parents, perhaps it sounds scary to let your kids play in the dark and cold while you sit inside drinking tea. But I firmly believe that no classroom or lesson can substitute the experience the kids had out there. They were working together, knew to be prepared (well-dressed, in communication, having headlamps), had independence from parents and therefore came up with this entire play time and building of “Fred” completely on their own. They were fully focused in the moment, using creative-play, and creating memories that will be hard to beat. Were these kids building their confidence and independence? Absolutely! Did this experience help me better see my children as the capable and independent children they are? Yup. Will they be better adults because of it? Man, I sure hope so. In this moment, reflecting back on their excitement, independence and joy makes me one happy mama.
Wishing you peace, love, and nature in the NEW YEAR! (Confidence and Independence too!)