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?

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Cheers! Peace, Love and Nature,

-L

Seasonal Changes, a Post from the Heart.

With over two feet of snow on the ground and negative temperatures arriving, even though winter solstice hasn’t arrived on the calendar yet, it’s safe to say winter is here.

Winter is a beautiful time of year on the homestead.

Calves and goat on pasture, after a snow.

Having always been a northern girl, I really do love the changes of the seasons. I can’t imagine living in a climate where seasonal changes are mild or unnoticable. Every new season hold excitement for me. Although you’d think that after 40 years I’d totally have this seasonal change thing nailed, right? Nope. Complete nope. Especially when it comes to winter. And I think it’s becoming harder.

We do have a lot of fun in the snow. We play.

Woodland enjoying a puff of snow he’s thrown on himself.

We snowshoe or go out for a daily walk. We explore.

We stay active shoveling, hauling wood, managing the animals and keeping their living spaces in working order, safe and warm. We continue to train the calves, putting them on light duty work. They recently helped haul back the holiday tree we cut down from our property – what a wonderful team they are.

But a few things have happened since Autumn changed to Winter.

My normal day of being outside in the sun for sometimes 10 hours a day, enjoying the beach, working the garden, harvesting the foods, preserving them and oogling of the beauty of providing the bulk of ones food – this has stopped.

It was a productive food preservation year. All the canning (5-6 deep on each shelf) plus the deep freezer stocked full of vegetables and meat.

Around the same time all that stopped, in mid-October we said goodbye to our dear family member, Quigley. At 14 1/2 years old, life was getting too hard for him. Saying goodbye was hard, adjusting to life without his sweet soul being by my side was torture. For weeks I dreaded entering the yurt without his happy greeting. Anything that was out of place or laying on the floor, registered in my brain as him. I cried daily…for quite a while. Those of you who know me, I don’t cry, it was pretty foreign to me. The grief feels different now, but it still hurts.

Forever my special guy.

By late October, it was almost always cloudy. My time outside was rarely met with the sun. I was spending a lot of time inside now, focused on my contract employment duties and full on in our day-to-day homeschool life.

One day during these seasonal and life impacting changes, I realized something. I was really sad. Not unhappy, I can see all the amazing things going on in my life around me, it’s just that I was somber and sorry feeling. A huge grey cloud was looming over, pulling from my energy and adding challenges (how I feel and perceive things, not physical ones) to my life that didn’t need to be there, that were just getting in the way.

I realized what shock my physical body had just gone through with the seasons changing. Going from active almost all waking hours and in the sun, to more restful indoor activites (although my mind at first told me this was lazy…ok, it still does). I realized what shock my emotional being had just gone through, tending to the kids and their education as my primary daily activity (I’m not gonna lie, being with the kids non-stop as Mama and teacher is hard for me) and also losing my best bud. The time when I was seeking the pleasure of having the comfort of his unconditional understanding and furry body to pet, he wasn’t there.

I know people generally don’t talk about feeling sad….but why not?! We don’t need to be alone in this. As someone who says more things aloud than I probably should, I will talk about it. People get sad. They get sad because of seasonal changes (seasonal affective disorder). They get sad because of a major life changes. Or, maybe minor ones. Maybe they just get sad and there doesn’t even need to be a reason.

When I realized how I was feeling, I said it. I told Tim and the kids, I told friends. Some didn’t respond…that’s okay, it can we be weird, not everyone can understand. Others showed care by saying or texting messages of love. One sent a small gift and made sure to pull me out of the house for quality friend time. Another invited me to her couch, handed me a box of Kleenex, asked how I was doing and listened without judgement. This, plus adding more outdoor physical activity daily (I NEED nature), short break times for just me, and loads of Vitamin D supplements cleared away that stupid grey cloud. Time probably helped too, since part of the stupid grey cloud is grief.

I don’t have the answers to getting rid of the cloud, but I know acceptance and talking to someone is a good start. I still have partly cloudy days. And that’s okay, mostly the sun is shining.

Wintry pond scene, blue skies.

To my friends and readers – I’m sending you love and I’m wishing you sunny days ahead. ♥

-L

Time to Hustle

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:

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Cheers! Peace, Love and Nature,
-L

We’re Expecting! (Not What you Think)

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!

Welcome Script
We’ll be opening a Vacation Rental / AirBNB!

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.

With some TLC, this unfinished home will be converted into a cozy, quiet getaway.

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!

Homestead Piku’s

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

Big pink pig in snow
Frannie

Chickens cluck
like
this Bawk Bawk Bawk!
-Woodland

The silly
goats
gasy, gasy.
-Flora

Flora walking Alder, the goat.

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!)

Get a whiff
of
bacon and eggs!
-Lisa

Cucumbers
grow
in the garden.
-Woodland

Bunny is
my
friend – happy love.
-Flora

Have a piku to share? Submit it as a comment or pop over to our Facebook page and comment on today’s post with this blog.

A 5 Foot Fence is Not a 5 Foot Fence in Winter

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.

After the blizzard we found both the chickens AND the ducks in the Chickshaw – a first!
This shows part of the path in the Poultry/Rabbit yard. Note 5 foot tall fence in background – about 4 feet under the naturally fallen (non-piled up) snow. The snow the kids are walking on is approximately 2 feet above ground level.
The chicken feeder was completely buried with about 1-2 feet of snow drift over it. About 1 foot of it is still under the snow.
Note how fence just disappears into the snow on the right side of this image. This is a fence we’ve been attempting to keep clear throughout the winter. It’s a 3 foot tall fence. Don’t tell the goats, but they can jump right out.
There is a 450 pound pig in there….somewhere. I actually shouted out loud when I saw her looking out at me, alive!
Additional problems present themselves, like a door that doesn’t close. I cleared absolutely every spot around and within this door, and it still doesn’t close!
The entire driveway was covered in 3-5 feet of snow that had drifted over (even though it had been snowblowed 2 times the day before). This shovel is leaning against a drift to show how tall the drifting was. Tim worked relentlessly to plow through this with the snowblower, it took a long time.

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!

The stop sign down the road from our homestead.

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? 🙂

Peace, Love & Nature,

-Lisa

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Homestead Dreamin’ – a Decade Later.

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!

Our first “home” – in the early days of White Sky Woods.

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.

The “Cider House” in the background, in the same location as the original camper.

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. 🙂

Our yurt, early winter 2018.

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.

Peace, Love & Nature,

-Lisa

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Exciting Homestead Announcement!

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!

Our son Woodland with the chickens and ducks on a winter day.

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!