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!
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.
I’m a believer that there is no better season for cookies then winter. Especially the winter we are having right now – all negative temps, all week long, add lots of snow. Since our homestead is immersed in a natural environment, it only makes sense that much of our homeschool learning that happens around here is seasonal and nature based. Last week I was facilitating a homeschool class that we hold weekly with friends and the topic was conifers. One part of the lesson I knew I wanted to do was to have the kids try Pine Needle Tea. This is an easy one…
PINE NEEDLE TEA: Find pine needles, wash them, cut in half and steep in hot water. I like to let the brew sit over night with the needles, it seems like more flavor is released. The more needles you have the stronger it will be. Start light and adjust in future brews.
We’ve been making a big batch and then keeping it in jars in the fridge, reheating when ready to enjoy. According to various sources, Pine Needle Tea is loaded with Vitamin C and Vitamin A and antioxidents.
Since that is so healthy and easy I figured I’d do some research into what else could be prepared with pine needles. We have a bountiful amount right here on the homestead after all! I stumbled across this unique recipe: Spruce Tree Shortbread Cookies.
We also have plenty of spruce needles to harvest from here, but since I already collected pine and it was -1 degree F outside, Pine Needle Shortbread Cookies it was going to be!
Honestely, I had my doubts this could taste good. I especially had my doubts when I took it out of the 24-hour refrigeration period and it was rock hard! But, after it had a chance to sit out at room temperature for a brief time, it could be rolled and cut. 5 kids worked to roll out the dough, cut the cookies, bake them and finally frost them. The outcome was delightful!
All the kids loved the cookies and enjoyed them with a side of Pine Needle Tea. Some thought the frosting was a bit too sweet (I agree). Adults approved of the cookies as well! If you have access to spruce or pine needles fresh off of unsprayed trees, try this recipe! I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
A big part of our move here to the homestead was about the opportunity to be more independent, especially in terms of our food and finances. Gaining this type of independence requires some serious drive, sometimes hard work, and an “I can do this!” confidence and grit.
Often it’s hard to reflect on the day-to-day things that happen because you’re just in the mode of moving right along. Today I had a chance to reflect on the idea of being confident and independent. And it wasn’t my own confidence and independence, it’s my kids.
I’m not going re-hash the article, I hope you just go ahead and read it. After I read the article it reminded me of some play the kids had just the other night. It was dark (cause that’s what it does here after 5:30 p.m. in winter) and the kids wanted to go out and play. My kids, 4 & 9, and a friend aged 9, got bundled up in their snow gear. Each of them were equipped with headlamps for seeing in the dark (their initiative to do so). They also made sure we had a walkie talkie and that ours and theirs were in communication. Off they went, playing in the cold, snow, and dark. While the kids played, it allowed me and my friend to enjoy tea and good conversation by the woodstove. Besides our conversation, the yurt was quiet, which is a real rare thing, ha!
Probably about an hour passed and we heard communication over the walkie talkie – “we’re having fun, but we’re coming in now!” In they came, smiles on their faces, excitedly talking. After dumping their snow gear near the woodstove to dry it, they loudly explained to us that they had “worked on something in the woods” and that we’d have to wait until daylight to see it. We received clues, including that rock pebbles were involved.
The next day we were all together again and going for a hike through the woods. The kids were really excited because they wanted us to see what they had done. A short ways from the yurt, but at a place where the yurt was completely out of sight, we got to where they had been the night before.
There stood a SNOWMAN! Built away from home, in the dark by the light of headlamps, and with absolutely no adult intervention. In my eyes, this snowman is the perfect symbol for raising confident and independent children. I’m sure I had the biggest smile on my face, but the smiles of excitement and pride on their faces was way more rewarding.
Parents, perhaps it sounds scary to let your kids play in the dark and cold while you sit inside drinking tea. But I firmly believe that no classroom or lesson can substitute the experience the kids had out there. They were working together, knew to be prepared (well-dressed, in communication, having headlamps), had independence from parents and therefore came up with this entire play time and building of “Fred” completely on their own. They were fully focused in the moment, using creative-play, and creating memories that will be hard to beat. Were these kids building their confidence and independence? Absolutely! Did this experience help me better see my children as the capable and independent children they are? Yup. Will they be better adults because of it? Man, I sure hope so. In this moment, reflecting back on their excitement, independence and joy makes me one happy mama.
Wishing you peace, love, and nature in the NEW YEAR! (Confidence and Independence too!)
Yesterday marked a first for me, we had a complete hog harvest right here on the homestead. We’ve harvested hogs before, but they went to the local butcher. The local butcher became unexpectedly unavailable at our harvest time, so it was time to try for ourselves. I participated in the whole event, start to finish. I helped prepare the pigs for dispatch, move them, skin the carcass and gut the carcass. I did all the meat cuts on a half hog. It was exhausting but necessary process. I learned a lot!
With that experience complete, I’m feeling a deep sense of pride in myself for being capable of this (and being willing!). It makes me incredibly pleased to be so involved in a process that provides our family with hyper-local food that was raised with love. Yes, we greatly enjoy the meat, and yes, we know the name of the pig it comes from. More about this in my thoughts here:
In Response to a Hog Harvest
I raised this pig.
I watched her be born.
I watched her grow.
I watched her lazily wallow in the mud on hot days.
I watched her take cozy shelter in the hay on cold.
I fed this pig by giving her a pasture to graze.
I shared with her my garden goodies.
I was loyal, I cared for her.
She gave me laughs, and perhaps a few moments of frustration.
Don’t most relationships?
I gave her back scratches.
In return, she warmed my heart.
I knew from the start what she would be.
Because of this I cared for her even more.
I provided for her.
Now, she provides for me.
That is ethical.
That is responsible.
That is hyper-local food.
That defines her and that defines me.
That is something I take pride in.
That is my homestead life.
Last week we were granted an amazing opportunity. The story goes like this. I posted a few messages on Facebook Marketplace and in my newsfeed asking for people who were interested in donating their old Halloween pumpkins to us to contact me and we’d do pick-up. (We ended up with an entire trunkload of pumpkins! The pumpkins are feeding the pigs.)
Anyhow, a Facebook friend saw the pumpkin message and shared the details with her friend. Her friend happens to know a family that grows a large field of vegetables. Anything that doesn’t sell at their farmstand then seems to be picked by community members and donated to local food banks, so awesome. They still had a lot left in the field and snow was coming. No one else was coming to pick. We were connected with them and they allowed us to come out and pick the leftover carrots, rutabagas and beets for pig feed.
It was 20 degrees and snowing but in less than 2 hours we filled the truck with what we estimated to be 1,200 pounds of root vegetables for our animals. The pigs are happy with all the root vegetables. The rabbits are enjoying the carrots. The chickens, ducks, and goats are eating some of the beet greens. All around happy bunch of animals here…and all because of the thoughtfulness of one person that set a chain reaction. In thinking about my gratefulness, this entire experience warms my heart and it also inspires me to consider future growth of our own to emulate the generosity of the family who owns this farm and is so gracious.
So, I’m looking now for some luck in paying it forward. Keweenaw and U.P. area readers, we recently learned of a person who is looking to relocate back to this area. Do you or someone you know have an opportunity for this multi-talented individual? Here are some details. If you are interested in more information, please send me a message.
Trained as an electrical engineer and worked in that field for 10+ years
Past 2 years working on farms full-time and plans to continue that indefinitely
Experience with tractors and equipment, livestock care, poultry slaughtering, making hay, and raising/harvesting/selling vegetables – organic, field, high tunnel, hydroponics
Current living in New England, but lived in the Keweenaw in the 2000’s