Foraging on the Homestead

I love all the seasons of the Keweenaw, but when it comes to foraging, oh my how summer does provide! Recently we had a filming here about Keweenaw foraging – for the show “Discovering” on 906 Outdoors. (We had a winter filming too, maybe you’d like to check it out!) After the filming (I’ll share the link on social when it’s ready!), I was reflecting on how I became a forager. I couldn’t quite put a finger on any specific experience or moment. More so that foraging sorta slowly sneaked its way into my life. It probably started with our move here to White Sky Woods. While the garden and fruit trees were just getting established, we foraged wild berries from all over our property. I probably didn’t call it foraging though, just picking. At the time, I had known through focusing on a natural foods diet, that some plants in nature were medicinal, such as raspberry leaf. I remember this being one of the first things foraged once we moved here, and it was so exciting that I blogged about it!

As we were out picking fruit, I started to see new plants I didn’t know. So, being the naturally curious person I am, I started out learning the identifications of many of the plants on our land – from trees to grasses and all the things between (I met a lot of amazing animal life along the way too). As I became more familiar with the plants we share our home with and developed the ability to identify them in various growing stages, I started to learn more about the properties of the plants and how they could benefit us and what we could do to provide for them. I fumbled a lot in the beginning, having problems with identification retention, but the more I was out with the land, the more it came to me quickly. On hikes out on the woods, I soon found myself looking at all the plants and naming them in my mind as I passed by them. I still do this today, like saying hi to people you know on a busy street.

Hello St. John’s Wort. Your sunny beautiful flower will be a source of mental wellness come the long, Keweenaw winter nights.

Still, after many years identifying plants on our land (going back over a decade now), there are some that stump me every spring when they come up and I have to refresh my memory. But, there are the “old standards” that have become a part of our foraging practice that I easily identify, harvest, and use for various purposes. The kids do too!

We do some foraging and harvesting for medicinal purposes, but for the most part, our focus is finding wild edibles and foraging that benefit our general wellness. Our favorites are the berries, but there is SO much more than that. This past winter we didn’t buy packaged tea because we had foraged enough from the land to provide our own healthy teas. Also, I created a few blends to sell at our farm stand.

When I’m out spending time with the land now, I think about how the land provides. I thank it. I think about what I can do to provide for it in return for its abundance. It’s a relationship of balance and respect and reciprocity. Just like one you would have with a partner or friend.

That is what the land is to me. While the food we forage is healthy for our bodies, the relationship with the land feeds my soul. We feed our body with food, and we can feed our soul with nature (vitamin N).

I thought about sourcing a whole bunch of beautiful pictures of nature for this post, but honestly, writing about the land has it calling to me. Now, it’s time for me to head up in the trees and forage Juneberries while watching my fingers get stained with the juices and listening and observing nature around me.

Peace, Love and Nature,

-L

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. 

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

A Vision for 2020.

The new year is here! Anyone else feel surreal writing or saying 2020? Like it’s something out of a sci-fi novel from our youth? I do!

Morning of December 31, 2019. Rolling into the new year with some snow removal!

I’ve learned that New Year’s means different things to people. The most common meaning seems to do with “starting fresh” which results in things like quitting bad habits or changing things in one’s lifestyle. Another common meaning is about reflection. And another being setting goals for the new year. Or all of these things combined. What I tend to see are 2 core themes in these actions: Wanting MORE. Wanting BETTER.

I’ll be doing some reflection and goal setting too – for me personally and for the homestead. But, I’m going to avoid MORE and BETTER in these goals. Instead, I’m going to focus my perspective on gratitude and the feeling of abundance in what I/we do have. 2019, as with the previous homestead years, was a lot of work – and highly gratifying. Could there be more? Sure! But not without me pushing my well-being to the edge (or over, eek). Could there be better? Maybe. Perhaps an outsider may look at me or our homestead and find ways to be better, but honestly, I’m pretty happy with how things are. They seem to be working well for us.

By mid-2019 I knew one of my goals for 2020 was going to be “no new major projects – focus on what is.” Another goal is that I’d like to continue focusing on observing the natural world around me (which is something that happens as I’m doing just about anything). Last year we started building a database of observations at iNaturalist – the White Sky Woods Project. Together Tim and I had 309 observations of 224 species!

Neither of these goals is “more” or “better”, I’m down with that.

So, what was good for you in 2019? Can you find gratitude in what is and allow happiness in, even if the new year doesn’t have “more” or “better”?

Happy New Year!

Wishing you peace, love, and nature,

-L

Farm Animal “Triad of Balance”

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.

Examining the health of his foot.

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.

Chickens like corn pone.

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.

Happy kids, healthy rooster.

Fingers crossed he stays in his sheltered and hay-filled area.

Wishing you peace, love and time in nature,

-Lisa