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.

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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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August 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.

8/26/19
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

It seems the harvest has taken a slight pause. The awesome crop of strawberries, zucchini, onions, trilogy beans, beets, carrots, peas, cucumbers, cabbage, and broccoli has slowed and now while pulling weeds I patiently watch for tomatoes to ripen, look for continued health in our dried bean crop and wonder how many winter squash are hiding under their magnificently large leaves. After a slow start the Oneida white corn crop is maturing nicely. I’m thankful that the cultivated blueberries are coming in big and plentiful, but I still believe the small wild ones taste better. The chokecherries are almost ripe, so juicing and jelly making will take place soon. These past months we’ve sold a small amount of our crop to local friends, the rest we ate fresh or I put up in jars or vacuum sealed and put them in the freezer.  I feel satisfied with the amount of food I’ve put up for our family so far and while I’m enjoying this garden lull, I know much more work is on its way!

Along with the garden growing, the animal population is too!  We enjoy watching the new bunnies that were born in the past month. Our rabbits are colony raised, so they burrow for nesting and in time, baby bunnies start emerging from the den. All 3 litters are out and about now and they are so fun to watch! We’ve counted 20 of them. They love eating weeds and scraps from the garden. They are raised primarily on fresh food in summer and given supplement feed as well.  At around 3-4 months old they will be harvest size and become healthy meals for our customers and for us.

Bunnies enjoying a snack of cabbage leaves from the garden.

As predicted, at the end of August our goat does had their babies. Our doe Alder had a boy and our doe Juneberry had a girl. Both kidded in the afternoon, within 24 hours of each other. We had the pleasure of quietly watching each birth, which was amazing. Our son (5) and daughter (9) were amazed! We happened to have friends over during each time and they got the opportunity to watch too. The kids and does seem to be off to an excellent start. Now, the milking begins and then on to yogurt and cheesemaking!

Alder’s boy kid.

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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

July 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’ll post the article here too.

7/29/19
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

What happened to all those blooms I mentioned in last month’s post? Fruit! The strawberries, cherries, juneberries, and blueberries are in varying phases of ripening. There are a lot of fruit on all of the plants and the ones that have ripened – the taste is spectacular! Jam and jelly making will begin soon and I’m hoping the heat will break so it’s not so hot working in the kitchen. Later fruits like chokecherry and apples have a while still. I can be patient, there is plenty to do in the meantime.

We had our first zucchini harvest in late July. The harvest began late this year because we had some troubles hardening off our squash plants. We grew them inside, spent good time hardening them off, planted them in the garden and then found all the plants dead about a week later (not a frost kill off, we suspect sun scald). Because of this, all the winter and summer squash were direct sown to the garden as seeds but I’m hopeful we’ll still have an excellent crop at the end of it all. Many other veggies are coming in: shelling peas, beets, spinach, and trilogy beans. We’ve been picking cabbage and found that a great way to enjoy them is to slice in thick (2 inch) pieces, season with garlic, salt, and pepper, wrap in foil and put them on the grill on low setting for approximately 35 minutes. 

Now that the heat seems to be breaking (someone please tell the chickens, they’ve been “on strike” and haven’t been laying), working in the garden and around the homestead will be more bearable. Many projects went on hold during the last 3 weeks of hot and humid weather and I’m now feeling the pressure of preserving the harvest. We continue to sell “extras” to local neighbors and friends.

Our duck, Rose, and her brood of 14 ducklings.

New faces around the homestead include a brood of 14 ducklings that hatched off one of our ducks nest. Also, it’s confirmed that our two doe goats are expecting! The physical changes in them are apparent and sometime in late August kids should be born. This will be our first birthing experience with goats. We’re looking forward to seeing what it will be like here with goat kids around and also to enjoy the milk the girls provide. Next on the docket is learning basic cheese making skills!

Compost, Backaches, and Sprouts

Well, if the title of this blog didn’t give it away, it’s planting season! The last weeks have been busy, spending the majority of each day laboring in the garden to prepare the soil and then planting it. I’ve often heard people say gardening is a relaxing thing, but I suspect they didn’t garden at the level of hoping to provide almost all their own food, for a family of four, for a year. The last days have been enjoyable being out in the fresh air and sun, but not exactly relaxing as I raced to get everything planted before June 1st, my own personal timeline.

Northern gardening is a bit more challenging because we don’t get as high of temps for as long. Our current long range forecast shows daytime temps of mid-60’s through June 15th. Planting the garden too early is not an option because of the risk of frost (with the exception of cold hardy seeds and starts). Planting the garden too late is not an option because of the risk of cutting the season way too short. Also, since we’re relying on all of our own seed starts, some are smaller than what you would expect to buy from a garden store so they need ample time to grow.

This year one of our achievements is the budget we planted on. After buying some growing soil for our seed starts and a few seed packets we needed or wanted to try, our total cost put into the garden this year is about $30. Considering we planted over 3,000 square feet, that’s pretty reasonable, right?

Another achievement is that we expanded the fenced garden. Our original plot from our first full year (2018 growing season) was approximately 2,000 square feet. This year we took over the attached poultry/rabbit yard, adding another 800 fenced square feet. The chickens and ducks went on complete free-range and the rabbits moved to a better location that will be more suitable for winter care. Because the soil in that area needs to be managed for better growing, we are only planting a portion of it.

Gardening isn’t all about little green plants though. A major project I’ve also started (and not yet finished) is mucking out the goat shed from the winter. While starting this project I realized I didn’t have any compost bins to put it in. One bin was done and ready to go to the garden, so that whole bin has been screened and then spread in the garden with our new plantings, making way to refill it with poo and hay to then rot down into soil.

I still have over half of the goat shed to clean out, but with several weeks of working in the garden for long days, my back has seen better days. I was already nursing a sensitive spot that seems to continuously get aggravated from hiking (and snowshoeing in winter). That spot was weak and a new spot is now aggravated and worse than the original spot.

I finished planting the garden on Friday, 5/31 and had an appointment that afternoon with a magician (i.e. chiropractor). The next two days I’m on physical rest to help continue the healing process. The break will be both physical and mental. Knowing the garden is in for the season brings me such peace. In just several weeks of work, hopefully this will provide us with the majority of the food we need to sustain us for the year.

My Yellow-rumper Warbler friend.

While I was working with the compost, I noticed the activity of some little birds. A small flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers had taken notice to the recently stirred compost and were visiting often. One was so comfortable with my presence I probably could have just picked him up. What a beautiful treat to share my work time with these little birds who were fun to watch and listen to.

Hope you get a chance to get your hands in the dirt to either plant food for yourself or to beautify your space.

Cheers! Peace, Love and Nature,

-L

May 2019 Digest

Each month I submit a piece to be published in the MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. It intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I’ll post the article here too. The following is the original article with a bonus recipe for our personal blog readers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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