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.

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Cheers! Peace, Love and Nature,

-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.

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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!

June 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.

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.

Homegrown meal, fresh eggs, asparagus, and nettle.

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. 

Working on the compost, screening for use in the garden.

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.

Help for Hard Labor has Arrived!

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!

We’re Expecting! (Not What you Think)

Before the rumors start, NO, our family is not growing. No, we aren’t expecting any cute baby animals (well, yet). I only used that catchy title to trick you. Ha! But now I’ve got you, and I do have something important to share. It’s a big new project that will lead to this: we’re expecting VISITORS!

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

An unbelievable opportunity arrived, we were given an offer to purchase 160 acres, contingent to and north of our current homestead. The property has some awesome natural features along with a small home that is there from the original family that owned ours and the surrounding land. We had always dreamed of adding this property to our own, but had no idea it would come so soon.

Well, we are excited to say that we are now the official owners of this new property! It will become a beautiful extension of our own homestead, giving us new opportunities for fields, gardens, and places to graze the animals. It also will be a big part of White Sky Woods Homestead, LLC as we will be renovating the home on the property an converting it to vacation rental/AirBNB. Guests will have the option of getting fresh eggs, goods and produce during their stay, grown right from our homestead. A stay will also offer the option of “experiences”. The experiences will be homestead and nature-focused. They will allow guests to grow their understanding and connection to nature (think: guided hikes, identifying wildflowers) and/or the homesteading way of life (think: lessons on yogurt making, bread making, caring for animals, etc.). Families will also be able to choose experiences that are aimed specifically for children.

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

It may not look like more than an unfinished structure behind a heap of snow, but with some finishing touches and improvements, it will be a place for people to get away from it all (we’re truly off the beaten path) and enjoy the peace, while adding a touch of homestead life experience to their stay…if they like.

As the snow thaws, the work will begin. As with our homestead journey and yurt build, I’ll be documenting it on social media (Facebook & Instagram), follow along! We intend to be open for guests starting in late spring, 2020.

Have you vacationed at a homestead, farm, ranch, or specialized vacation rental or AirBNB? What did you love about it? What could have been better? Please let me know!