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.
6/29/19 Jacobsville, MI White Sky Woods Homestead
Up here on the Keweenaw, we’ve finally bloomed! Everything seemed to come alive during the middle 3 weeks of June (with exception of our favorite first blooms, Serviceberry, which is always the first bloom and happened in May). If the amount of flowers on our wild and cultivated fruit trees and berries are any sign of the fruit crop this year, it should be a good one! While walking around our land we hear the constant serenade of our native pollinators. Last year’s strawberry harvest was strong, and with last year’s preservation efforts is still feeding our family. With that, this year we’ll be selling strawberries to friends and families in our small local community. This year’s crop is growing nicely and should be ripe for the picking throughout July (depending on the variety).
With the temperatures moving out of the 50’s and 60’s and into some steady 70’s in late June, it seems our garden has finally come alive! This means the weeds are growing nicely too, oy! My attempts at doing a small amount of weeding daily seems to make no impact. We have found a positive in all these weeds though. A “weed” known as purslane is a delightful treat to eat while working in the garden. Another plentiful “weed”, lamb’s quarters, is a tasty and nutritious wild green. This one we pick and either dry to use as a flavorful herb sprinkle or to add to soups made in winter, or we cook fresh leaves in the skillet like spinach.
Screening compost is another project that is now done. How nice it is to have a free means of building nutrition in our soil! We have 3 large compost bins, 1 that was resting and 2 that were actively being added to. The resting bin has now been scooped, screened, and applied to the garden and has become the active bin. The other two bins are now resting, 1 will be ready next summer and the other will be in 2 years. We hope to continue that cycle. Our bins are built up of any food scraps that come from us (that the animals don’t eat), weeds pulled from the garden, coffee grounds from a local restaurant, and hay and manure that gets mucked out from the animals.
Exciting progress for our new business (est. January 2019), we now have a logo! You can see it (and other homestead happenings) on our Facebook page or shared through Instagram.
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.
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.
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!
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 snow has melted, the weather is warming, the crocus flowers have come and gone, buds are showing themselves on trees, mud is everywhere. Spring has arrived and here on the homestead that means it’s a productive time – Spring cluttering time is here! Yeah, you read that correct. Not Spring cleaning (although it seems we are always cleaning here), in spring it’s truly cluttering time in the yurt and around the homestead. Let me explain.
Tim’s spring project is getting as many plant starts going so come end of May we plant the garden full of our own plant starts. We currently have over 180 garden plants growing in our yurt. While the plants are contained and organized, there is definitely an amount of space they consume that is normally unoccupied. The project starts annually at the end of March. Tim built a simple set-up: A hand-built rack, shop lights running on a timer, and heating pad for a portion of growing time. All the plants seem to be off to a great start. By mid-May they’ll start to go outside for a portion of the day to harden off and get ready for planting. This is always the part I’m most nervous about, the risk of losing them after all the time and effort!
What we have growing: paste tomatoes (my go-to sauce tomato), cherry tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, 3 types of sweet peppers and 1 type of hot pepper, eggplant, cabbage, broccoli, multiple types of squash, cucumber, zucchini, various melons and pumpkins. Next we’ll hand sow the peas and some root vegetables into the garden. By late May and early June all the planting will take place in the garden, including everything not started inside (beans, corn, carrots, etc.).
I love all the plant starts, the self-reliance of it, they make our garden frugal and sustainable (vs. buying all the plants from the store), the temporary clutter….totally worth it.
In another spot we have a delicate situation taking up space. It’s our first time at incubation (thanks to our neighbors who have loaned us their incubator)! 8 duck eggs and 10 chicken eggs are incubating. So far it looks promising. Candling after one week shows the development we should expect. Fingers crossed we can expand our flock in this frugal and self-reliant way.
Outside, other clutter appears. The outdoor hose is running again so outdoor things that have needed washing are now cleaned and lined up by the hose, drying the in the sun. Wood that’ll need cutting and splitting for next winter is starting to pile up, waiting to be split and organized nicely in the wood shelter.
The clutter around here represents how busy the spring season can be for us. It’s a beautiful, productive, and self-reliant clutter. In just a short time it’ll all find it’s way to another place on the homestead where it will eventually disappear because it’s providing for us. With that, I have to say, I’m thankful for this clutter!
Eventually I’ll succumb to the idea of needing a tractor here on the homestead. On a rare occassion we’ve had a project that a tractor is necessary for, thankfully we have neighbors who have come to help with their own tractor.
Things I dislike about a tractor:
Space needed for storage.
Cost to buy.
Cost to maintain, insure.
Gas to run.
Loud sounds it makes. Ugh, I despise loud sounds.
Things I like about a tractor:
Does heavy labor I cannot.
With the right implements, it’s verstile for doing many projects.
I actually enjoy hard labor, but there are some things I know I could do more efficently if I had some help. For instance, I can move big pieces of firewood, but, I could move MANY big pieces of firewood at once and at longer distances with some support. Well, that support will be here on the homestead soon, it’s not a human and it’s not a tractor.
Meet Wiit (left) and Nels(right)! Cute, aren’t they?
What do they have to do with labor? Well, they don’t know it yet, but they are the helpers! We’ll be training these young bull calves to be oxen! If you are unfamiliar, an ox is defined as a bovine trained as a draft animal. I am so excited, yet nervous. I have no bovine experience and of course, have never trained an ox…or any draft animal for that matter. Lots of research led us to this decision and lots of reading and watching has done the best job it can in preparing us for this new adventure. When asked, one person assured us “It’s easier than I thought it would be – just spend consistent time with them and it’s not hard.” I hope I will be able to say the same!
Our goal is to have them help us move large timber, haul firewood, work in the field and any other odds and ends they can help us with. Plus, I look forward to having them as work companions and having their manure for our fields and gardens. As a seasoned oxen teamster (this is the term for a person working oxen) pointed out, if some how it doesn’t work out, you still have “well-trained beef”, meaning they can serve a purpose as meat animals if not oxen. This logic appealed to my practicalities, but I do hope that’s not how it turns out.
Our homestead has a working farm history, and from what we’ve been told, there were cattle raised here for a significant period of time. From the looks of the old machinery left behind, there were draft animals being used as well. I’m excited to bring back some of the history and continue to work our homestead in a way it may have been worked historically, with draft animals. Each calf’s name is derived from the name of an owner who lived and worked this exact land.
Wiit and Nels will be arriving in about a week, so let the draft training begin!
The other day I popped open a quart jar of white chicken chili and poured the chili into a pot on the stove to warm it slowly for dinner. I made this white chicken chili from scratch, absolutely every ingredient in it except for the chili powder was grown here on the homestead. Not only was it grown here on the homestead which was a labor of at least 4 months, it was then prepared, cooked, and pressure canned to preserve it, another several hours of work. The white chicken chili is amazing, and I’m sure part of why I think it tastes so good is because I know the effort of every bit of it.
It was time for chores, so I checked the pot on the stove, turning it down to the lowest setting. I got ready, headed outside and went to feed and care for the animals. Without a doubt, I got sidetracked spending more time with the animals than originally planned. Spending time with them is good for the soul, so who can be blamed for doing such a thing?
When I got back into the yurt, I was quickly reminded that I had white chicken chili on the stove and the signs were clear, we would NOT be having this for dinner. A thick smoke was starting to billow out of the pot lid, there was a loud hissing noise, and the smell of burned food was enough to make me open all the windows even though it was only around 30 degrees F outside. I quickly pulled the pot off the stove and after it stopped boiling (it was so hot it took several minutes for it to stop!) I stirred it, examining and hoping that perhaps some could be salvaged. Nope, absolutely none would be salvaged.
I was disappointed at myself for this neglect…I wasted the food. It was our homegrown food. Not only did I ruin a wonderfully tasty meal, but all the hard work that went into that quart of white chicken chili was all for naught. My initial reaction may seem extreme, but imagine spending hours upon hours creating a beautiful piece of art only to have it torn apart, never to be that piece of art again.
While we did not get to eat the white chicken chili for dinner, on our homestead almost nothing goes truly goes to waste. Certain foods get fed to the animals (like shriveled grapes, chickens love these!), or if they are not edible, it gets put into the compost pile, which eventually ends up back in the garden to grow more food.
April is National Poetry Month, so while prepping some homeschool materials, I recently ran across this ancient (sometime between the 7th and 10th century) Chinese poem which reminded me of the white chicken chili incident. The English translation is below:
Farmers weeding at noon, Sweat down the field soon. Who knows food on a tray Thanks to their toiling day?
I read that this poem is still used in Chinese culture today to teach children about not wasting food.
Even if we are consuming food that we didn’t grow, it’s important to think about the efforts that went into it. My mind is blown at how cheap food can be. Think about a loaf of bread at the store. You can buy a nice quality loaf for $3. Somehow $3 covers the advertising, the stocking, the packaging, the shipping, the labor to make the bread, the energy to bake it, the process of turning wheat into flour, the tractors and fuel to harvest the field, the wheat to plant, the labor to plant it and more steps that I skipped! Yet, it’s only $3.
There are a lot of opinions about the food system, but I think we can all agree, getting healthy food to people takes time and a lot of effort. And perhaps we can also agree that the majority of the public does not understand or appreciate this truth. Next meal, think about where your food came from and be grateful to have it. A lot of time and effort went into it so that you can enjoy.
The white chicken chili incident also taught me another lesson. In the future, will I leave the stove on while I’m doing chores? Absolutely not!
Before the rumors start, NO, our family is not growing. No, we aren’t expecting any cute baby animals (well, yet). I only used that catchy title to trick you. Ha! But now I’ve got you, and I do have something important to share. It’s a big new project that will lead to this: we’re expecting VISITORS!
An unbelievable opportunity arrived, we were given an offer to purchase 160 acres, contingent to and north of our current homestead. The property has some awesome natural features along with a small home that is there from the original family that owned ours and the surrounding land. We had always dreamed of adding this property to our own, but had no idea it would come so soon.
Well, we are excited to say that we are now the official owners of this new property! It will become a beautiful extension of our own homestead, giving us new opportunities for fields, gardens, and places to graze the animals. It also will be a big part of White Sky Woods Homestead, LLC as we will be renovating the home on the property an converting it to vacation rental/AirBNB. Guests will have the option of getting fresh eggs, goods and produce during their stay, grown right from our homestead. A stay will also offer the option of “experiences”. The experiences will be homestead and nature-focused. They will allow guests to grow their understanding and connection to nature (think: guided hikes, identifying wildflowers) and/or the homesteading way of life (think: lessons on yogurt making, bread making, caring for animals, etc.). Families will also be able to choose experiences that are aimed specifically for children.
It may not look like more than an unfinished structure behind a heap of snow, but with some finishing touches and improvements, it will be a place for people to get away from it all (we’re truly off the beaten path) and enjoy the peace, while adding a touch of homestead life experience to their stay…if they like.
As the snow thaws, the work will begin. As with our homestead journey and yurt build, I’ll be documenting it on social media (Facebook & Instagram), follow along! We intend to be open for guests starting in late spring, 2020.
Have you vacationed at a homestead, farm, ranch, or specialized vacation rental or AirBNB? What did you love about it? What could have been better? Please let me know!
Happy Pi Day! It’s March fourteenth, synonymously know as Pi Day for how it aligns with the date on the calendar – 3/14 also the first 3 digits of Pi, 3.14. The kids and I recently attended an event celebrating the number Pi. They did many activities to understand the number and how it is used. One fun activity was creating Piku’s. Not a Haiku, which is a poem that consists of 3 lines where the first and last lines of a Haiku have 5 syllables and the middle line has 7 syllables. In a Piku, it also is made of 3 lines, but the lines are 3 syllables, 1 syllable, and 4 syllables, 3.14, Pi. Inspired by our homestead and the theme of Pi day, each of us has written a few Homestead themed piku’s. Enjoy!
Some days I step in poop a lot. -Tim
Homesteading just where I belong! -Lisa
Chickens cluck like this Bawk Bawk Bawk! -Woodland
The silly goats gasy, gasy. -Flora
Today I ran from a very large pig. -Tim (so, Tim took some liberties with the number of syllables, but that’s poetic license, right? Ha!)
Our poultry/rabbit yard is a fenced off area meant to keep predators out and give our chickens, ducks, and rabbits a fair amount of space to roam. The fence is 5 feet tall. The size of the area becomes less and less accessible to the animals as more snow comes. We always shovel around the chicken coop (chickshaw), duck shelter, and feeding and watering areas. However, we let the snow take over the rest, it would be impossible to keep up with a shovel and the blower doesn’t fit in there (although that would be terrifying to the animals anyhow). The ducks and rabbits still wander in the deeper snow, but the chickens are “chicken” and pretty much stay in or very near the chickshaw.
Last week, before the blizzard that brought 18 inches of new snow and drifts taller than 5 feet, I noticed something odd as I looked out toward the poultry yard. I saw two of our rabbits VERY near the fenceline. When I say near the fence line, I’m not referring to them just being near the perimeter, but also at the TOP of the perimeter. Remember, the fence is 5 feet tall. All the snow that has been falling throughout the season (estimated over 200 inches), has been piling up. Plus, all the snow we’ve been shoveling out of the “living” area has been piling up on top of that. The other day we saw a Blizzard Warning issued for our community. Since the rabbits were already almost able to leap out over the 5 foot fence, we knew we had to get to work.
We spent several hours clearing out as much as we could, including taking the snow piles we’ve been shoveling onto down away from the top of the fence and widening all the snow paths in the poultry/rabbit yard. We cleared out the whole pig pen, shoveled off the roof to the shed and cleared out as much of the goat area as we could.
The trick is, we’re doing all this by hand, and therefore the snow around the edge of these areas is starting to pile up. We knocked down those piles as much as possible knowing we would need to add more. There is only so far we can throw and only so many places we can move the snow. We do not have a machine that can scoop up and lift out the snow.
Then the blizzard came. 18 inches of snow was really nothing, that we can handle. Then the 50-60 mph winds started and lasted nearly 24 hours. We cleared twice during this time, but overnight was when the really crazy wind happened. We lost power at home, but thanks to a stockpile of food and a woodstove, there wasn’t much to worry about inside. As we slept, we had no idea what was happening outside.
In the morning, the sun came out and the power was on. We went out to clear out so we could get the animals fed and watered. 3 hours later it was as good as it was going to get. Once the temps go up again, they are currently lingering between 0 degrees Fahrenheit and 10 degrees Fahrenheit, we’ll go out and continue to clear. The series of pictures below depict some of the results of the blizzard.
There is no doubt that homesteading keeps us on our toes. It challenges our problem solving skills always, which I actually do enjoy! Prior to the blizzard, we had reimagined our livestock housing areas since we’ve really struggled with watering all winter, especially on days under 0 degrees F when the water we provide freezes almost immediately. We hadn’t thought about fencing height for the rabbits with our new plans, but now we have!
After the challenges we were presented with this winter, new animal housing plans and locations have been designed on paper, now we wait until the snow melts to make the changes.
Like every summer here, it’s going to be a busy one! But we have awesome plans and big changes coming. There is never a dull moment here – good thing, what would I blog about otherwise? 🙂
Have you had an idea you thought was crazy therefore you shut it down and it barely crossed your mind again? Or how about a crazy idea you just couldn’t shut down, no matter how impractical it seemed? Well, that’s the kind of idea that brought us to living in a yurt and fulfilling our dreams at White Sky Woods Homestead. People often ask how we decided on and ended up doing this homesteading thing. A book could be written about the journey that slowly started over a decade ago, but I’ll spare you. 🙂 Instead, here’s a brief origin story.
In 2008, Tim and I had ideas of having property that eventually would be a small homestead where we could live a more self-reliant life, a more environmentally sustainable life. A life where we weren’t caught up in a rat race of making bigger incomes and buying newer and better material items. We didn’t know if this was our picture of retirement (I was 29 years old at the time), or undertaking a major life change that would get us to that place sooner.
As we talked lots of ideas arose, everything from off-grid cabin in the woods to building a yurt and everything far and in between, which is A TON of options.
If anything was going to happen, we’d have to start by searching for land. We knew we wanted a piece of land over 40 acres but we had somewhat of a limited budget. We wanted a sizeable land so we could wander, explore, and also so we had some extra privacy (I am a total introvert… don’t hate). A short time into the land search, we found our beautiful 80 acres on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Upper Michigan. The first thing anyone asks when they know we moved here is “how to you decide on the Keweenaw?” Hmmmm…….it was chance I guess? Ha! I’d love to say this was a seriously thought and planned our purchase where we weighed all our options, but it wasn’t. We came to the property, snowshoed in during January and put an offer in the next business day. We had not looked at any other properties prior to that, and we had never been to the Keweenaw Peninsula. Everything felt right then and to this day, it still does!
A few weeks after our purchase we found out we were expecting our first child. Woah! Anxiety set in wondering how we would afford daycare and our homesteading pursuits, whatever it was going to look like. That summer before our daughter was born we purchased a small, old camper and parked it on our property, visiting as often as possible to experience the land. It was a 4.5 hour drive, so while it wasn’t practical to be there every weekend, we did travel quite a bit. Every time we visited, we dreamed up ideas.
The next spring, we quickly realized our crummy camper wasn’t going to be a wonderful place to sleep with an infant. It was time for an upgrade. Over the course of a few visits, Tim built our small one room shelter, referred to as the “Cider House” because of its location surrounded by many old apple orchard trees. He built, and while our daughter Flora napped or played on a blanket, I would help with lumber cuts. It was built on a tight budget with materials purchased from Craigslist and Restore.
For years we came, dreamed, went, and dreamed some more. Over the years we progressed in our careers, we had our son Woodland, we learned more about self-reliance and experimented with things like beekeeping, meat rabbits, making yogurt, homestead type skills like spinning wool, canning and scratch food. We worked and worked and in turn saved and saved money. In 2013 we felt it was time to start making dreams come true, or at least establishing a more concrete way to make this happen. We worked with a yurt company and designed our yurt with plans to start building in the summer of 2014. It took working extended weekends over 2 summers, and our yurt was almost live-in ready. The spring of 2017 we passed final building inspection. We also made the decision that instead of waiting until the kids were older or for us to retire, that NOW was the time. More details on this in the blog I posted at that time.
Did we know exactly what life on a homestead would look like for us? No. Do we now? Nope, the idea of that just makes me laugh. It’d be like planning a newborn’s entire life – impossible! Yes, you can have ideas of what your values are how you may fulfill them, but ultimately it seems best planned in periods of time, sometimes down to the day or minute. 🙂
It was a really big idea on a pretty small budget. Now, here we are. There are times (especially when looking at our finances along the way) that I wanted to give up. Instead of giving up, we just slowed down or slightly shifted direction, providing more time and assuring more security for us was definitely best for our family (nothing on a whim).
Big change is not for everyone. I’ve always been a very planned, realistic, and driven by logic type of person – and while quitting a successful career to live in a yurt on a homestead doesn’t match this description…there was a fire burning inside me that I knew I had to address. Thankfully Tim had this fire too and we could dream this together! 11 years have passed since our ideas starting turning into real decisions and 1.5 years have passed since we moved and made the 180 degree shift in life. The rat race seems years behind us. The reality of our dreams is now and there is so much more still ahead of us.
Do you have any really big ideas for your future? Add a comment to this blog and write your big idea(s) here – or just write them down somewhere! If you don’t put it out there, it may never happen.