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. 

A New Pace

How are you doing? Physically? Emotionally? Well, I hope. In this last week I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with friends and family more than we normally would. Out of concern for one another and also because we have more time to connect. How nice to have more time for one another (even if it’s not face-to-face). I know more time isn’t everyone’s way of life right now, depending on one’s profession or other factors. I also understand that more time isn’t everyone’s thing or that this “new” way of daily life is challenging for many.

During the past 2 weeks and the weeks coming up, I’ve found our number of off-the-homestead responsibilities to drop considerably, and it’s been relieving to watch the schedule clear. Our family has been greatly enjoying having more time to be freely navigating our days. Also, let’s face it, while we are generally very involved in our community and socially, we also are really content just being here on the homestead. So, this social distancing and staying home thing hasn’t really been all that challenging for us. I’m so grateful for that, I know it is very different for others. In fact, it’s been such an unexpected opportunity to just slow down and enjoy a more reasonable pace of life.

Tim has been working diligently on the cabin, the progress is excellent! I keep taking pictures, but it’s hard to convey before and after through them, so I haven’t shared any on social media, yet.

The kids have been playing outside, listening to podcasts, attending so many awesome webinars just for kids and building everything imaginable with LEGO bricks.

I’ve been enjoying a more relaxed approached to my work and homeschool time (I’ve found that I have more peace in these things because I’m not having to rush to perform them within the constraints of all the other commitments). The ukulele I bought 2 years ago? I’m practicing it daily now! I am working through some canning that I didn’t have time to finish in fall, wild plum jelly and chokecherry jelly so far. I’m enjoying baking bread. Preparing our meals also has a much more relaxed approach because I’m not trying to cram it into a crazy busy day. I’ve even had time to just sit and read! This pace has been cathartic.

As a family we’ve spent a lot of time getting fresh air outdoors, and indoors playing games, reading out loud, and building puzzles together. We’ve been keeping busy with homeschool (our normal thing anyhow), but finding ourselves much more relaxed since we don’t have other commitments to run to. We get all the same stuff done, but at a more relaxed pace which puts everyone in a better mood. I thought this photo pretty much sums it up.

Dave (our dog) and Woodland.

Overall, this new pace has been a treat. Yes, we are feeling worry about the impact of COVID-19 on our family and friends and global society – the concern is constant. But I am hopeful that this time where we’re making history will result in some positive long-term change.

Friends, what have you been doing? Read any good books lately? How are you spending your time? Tell us in the comments below. Or find us on Facebook & Instagram to keep in touch!

Sincere wishes for the well-being of your whole self.

Peace, Love, & Nature,

-L

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

Name that tea! Really.

Right now many gardeners, homesteaders, and the like are getting jazzed about the upcoming planting season. But here I am with projects still lingering from the summer and fall harvest of 2019. Once I wrap these up, I know I’ll feel more clear and ready to accept the upcoming growing season! I’ve been wanting to do these lingering projects, but you know…..time. Left on my list includes:

Chokecherry juice and wild plum juice I made and froze that needs to be thawed for jelly making. Yum!

A huge bowl of frozen tomato sauce that needs to be thawed and canned (I ran out of jars at the end of the season).

A bin filled with mason jars packed full of various edibles and medicinals we foraged throughout the summer.

In most of these jars are “weeds” that are known by some for being a nuisance on their lawn, and by others for their healing properties. An example is Pineapple Weed. This relative of chamomile smells like pineapple when crushed and adds a bright, fruity flavor when brewed in a tea. I picked, washed, and dehydrated a bunch this summer and have been adding it to my loose berry leaf teas. Like true chamomile, it can be used for relaxation.

My long-term intention with my jars full of foraged and dehydrated goodies is to create small batches of unique herbal tea blends for my own enjoyment and ultimately to develop recipes that I can repeat and use to create product for sale. The herbal tea blends are for flavor enjoyment and general wellness (not specific medicinal use). The ingredients are 100% harvested at White Sky Woods. All winter long I’ve been enjoying my random blends; I haven’t had to buy any tea from the store!

It was time. I finally I sat down, measured, documented, mixed, and individually bagged two final recipes! They have been taste tested and approved and I hope to have a small amount of handcrafted herbal teas for sale this summer.

So here’s the thing, before I sell this product, both handcrafted blends need a name! Here’s where you come in. 😉 Below are the descriptions of each herbal tea blend. If you have a creative idea for a name that matches the product, please make your suggestion. If I use your suggestion, I’ll give/send you 10 bags of whichever herbal tea blend you prefer (or a combo including both). Read the descriptions below and send me an e-mail if you’re inspired with a name (or names)!

The first recipe’s flavor could be described as a warm and earthy blend. It was created with the idea of comfort and chasing the winter blues away. It includes: wild raspberry leaf, wild strawberry leaf, wild blueberry leaf, stinging nettle, St. John’s wort, and bergamot leaf.

The second recipe is bright and soothing – the taste of a relaxing summer day. It has a sweet scent and a would be delightful either hot or cold. It’s a blend of wild strawberry leaf, wild raspberry leaf, and pineapple weed.

Homemade herbal tea in my Grandma’s antique tea cup.

I’m looking forward to your name suggestions! For now, it’s tea time. Cheers!

-L

January 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.

1/31/20
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

Winter snowfall of over 130” for this season thus far has been keeping us physically active with snow removal around the homestead, keeping fences clear and pathways open for the animals (and humans). In late November we received a whopper of a storm that brought down a dozen or more trees around our home, barn, and gardens, and many many more across our hiking trails throughout our property. That storm left us without power for 60 hours. Spring clean-up is on our minds, especially where garden infrastructure was damaged, but it will be 2-3 months from now before the snow is clear enough to get to work. 

A major relief we have for timber clean up is the support we’ll receive from our young steer in training (when they are 4 years old we can officially call them oxen). They’ll help us with skidding out logs, moving tree tops, and transporting wood chips. At 9 months old, we’re greatly impressed with their strength and intelligence and are excited to put them to work in spring. They just got fitted with their first yoke (made on the homestead) and until the work starts they’ve been training by pulling the kids around on the sled, much to the joy of both calves and kids!

Nels (left) & Witt (right) training with their new handmade yoke.

A benefit of a long winter is having more time for projects and play. A fun and practical project this winter was our do-it-yourself kicksled! Tim and the kids built this together, starting with a pair of old skis. The kicksled is a daily play routine for the kids and also has been a great tool for moving items from home to barn to pole shed. Using it or getting a ride puts a smile on everyone’s face!

Winter has more time for unique projects!

We recently attended the Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference, a part of our journey of improving knowledge; learning new things and unlearning old ones. Our day at the Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference was great! We split up at sessions to gather the most information and then went out for dinner afterwards to talk over all our takeaways. From bees, to rabbits, to medicinal herbs, to woodlot management, and beyond, now we’re even more ready for our 2020 homesteading year!

Lastly, staying active during our long winters has been such an important part of our winter wellness. Since I’m out several times a week snowshoeing our property and I love sharing nature with people, I’m offering AirBNB “Experience” snowshoe and homestead tours. It’s a great way to stay active, enjoy the long winter, share our way of life with others, and drive a small amount of business revenue.

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

Invitation to Experience the Homestead

From the moment our snowshoes landed on what was to become a property we could call our own, we felt a deep connection. We knew it was meant for us. 8 years later we had completed the yurt and moved here to start our new, radically different life as homesteaders. 2 years after that, the opportunity to purchase the neighboring property presented itself and we just couldn’t turn that down. Combined, we now have 240-acres of woods, pasture, wetland, ponds, with great biodiversity and interesting history including 2 ponds that were former Jacobsville Sandstone quarries.

Privately owned Quarry pond, site of former Jacobsville Sandstone Quarry. Jacobsville Sandstone was extracted locally between 1870 and 1915.

We invite our friends out and explore on hikes, enjoy the garden and the animals. As a family we wander, discover and catalog newly discovered plant and animal life, and simply enjoy the quiet, amazing place we have here.

I enjoy this amazing place and am delighted to see our friends enjoy it so well – I knew I wanted to share it with others in some capacity. We now have that opportunity, offering various tours as seasonally allowed. Some will be available via “AirBNB Experiences” bookings. Private tour bookings (other than what is offered via AirBNB) will also be available seasonally, listed on our Experiences page.

I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.

-Henry David Thoreau

We look forward to hosting you!

-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

October 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 post the article here too.

11/04/19
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

As the snow started falling a sigh of relief was released. The snow signifies that a much needed rest period is ahead! So much of the winter prep was completed in such a short period of time I can’t help but feel somewhat amazed at our family’s ability to work as a team.

For my own sake I wish I could report that the fall butchering is done, but there are a few left to go. The major project of butchering and selling young fryer rabbit is complete and buyers are lined up. I’ve been impressed with the interest and we are happy to bring healthy and humanely raised meat to our small community. Our rabbits are colony-raised on a pasture diet. They enjoy an ample “yard” space to hop around in and eat fresh grass and twigs naturally growing in their area. The rabbits are fed hay, fresh greens, garden veggies, and if needed, supplemental rabbit feed. For the next month they’ll be enjoying the plentiful pumpkins that volunteered themselves in the garden this year. The ducks, chickens and goats also like these. The calves could care less.

Looking back at the garden harvest, the most exciting part was our dried beans (yes, I get excited over beans!). We grew several varieties including: Calypso, Black Coco, Brown Dutch, Soldier, Tohya Soy, Scarlet Runner, and Cannellini.  We let them dry on the plant and then once shelled give them a final drying cycle inside before storing in glass jars. The favorites are Cannellini (white bean) and Black Coco (large black bean).

Beans, beautiful beans!

After a season of hard work, we’re ready to have a bit of downtime. The garden is at rest for the winter and the animals are all located in their winter pastures (much to their displeasure). Time to switch out our summer clothes for sweaters and long johns and our sandals for snowshoes. The daylight is short, giving us reason to shift into a slower pace.

How about following us on Facebook & Instagram?

Cheers! Peace, Love and Nature,
-L

September 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 post the article here too.

9/30/19
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

This month is brought to you by the color red! Even when I close my eyes I see tomatoes and apples. The heritage apples growing all over our property bring what could be endless picking and preservation, but as tempting as it is to try we also have to remember scale and work within our means. We’ve pressed many gallons of apple cider, put up applesauce, apple butter, apple cider jelly (my favorite apple thing!), and have a batch of apple pie filling coming up next. All of the animals have been greatly enjoying the fall apple crop – rabbits and goats especially.

Now for the tomatoes. Our crop did surprisingly well after a rough start, so now I’m taking special care to nurse them to their delicious ripe state without losing them to slugs or splitting. The fall rainy season is upon us and the tomatoes are getting more water than they need, causing the splitting and making nice habitat for slugs and mold. This year, my tactic is to pull any tomatoes that are on the vine starting to ripen and promptly bring them inside. I wipe them, let them dry, and put them in boxes topped with newspaper to finish the ripening process indoors. This prevents the slugs from getting to them and because they are not being over-watered by mother nature, no splitting. The tomato crop to this point has been processed and cooked into an herb, onion, garlic pasta sauce. Oooo, so tasty. Once I have the amount I want of that, salsa will be the next project. 

Steamy pots of tomato sauce cooking down.
Steamy pots of tomato sauce cooking down.

The squash are slowly coming in from the garden, these will be kept in a cool place to fresh eat during winter. We planted our own saved seeds and had some cross-pollination take place so we have some pretty wonky squash out there, many normal ones too. I won’t judge them for their uniqueness and I’m always ready for a culinary adventure. I’m most curious about the small pumpkin shaped “Delicata” squash. 

The blueberry crop is officially done. Just before it ended our daughter, Flora (age 9 at the time), made a delicious blueberry pie from scratch. More garden crops that are keeping us busy with harvesting are the root crops and my ultimate favorite – dry beans!  I’ll save that for next month because they deserve their own special focus.

Child making blueberry pie from scratch.
Blueberry Pie from scratch!

Fall season also means downsizing the duck flock and rabbits. Some duck hens have been sold to be layers at other homesteads, males will be butchered. The recent litter of rabbits is just about harvesting size. Since it’s two of us processing, we process in small batches which makes it more manageable and I feel it’s less stress on us all.

The two goats are giving a total of about 1.5 quarts of milk each day. We freeze what we can’t keep up with and now that we have all the correct supplies for cheese making we can begin experimenting. We’ll start with cheve, ricotta and then cottage cheese.

Finally, a harvest here on the homestead that is rarely thought of by others but essential for many small farms is timber. We harvest and split our own firewood for heating and I’m happy to say the woodshed is stocked and ready to go and we have some of next year’s sitting in waiting. With the timber harvest this year comes not just firewood, but also timber to be used for lumber. Tim has been processing logs on the portable sawmill and stacks of 4×4’s, 2×4’s and 2×6’s are piling up for drying and then use on future projects. 

It’s usually about now that I start to look forward to winter (gasp!). It’s not the cold or snow I look forward to, but the forced break that naturally comes along with it.  

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