March 2020 Digest

Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I post the article here too.

04/05/20
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

While there are still spots with several inches of snow on the ground, it is retreating and the signs of spring are showing. The most obvious signs we’ve seen outside are that our chipmunks have come out of hibernation and a whole variety of new bird species are arriving!  I absolutely love the change of the seasons. Another obvious sign here is mud! The indoor sign of spring is seed starting! Currently growing includes: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and herbs. 

A big change is coming to our garden this year, in May we’ll start building our high tunnel. We received a grant through the NRCS Eqip High Tunnel program that provides the financial assistance to do this project. It will be a game changer in extending our season and allowing us to grow more food. Another project underway is building a produce stand that will be located at a neighbors. They currently have a small stand where they sell their maple syrup. The new stand will be a collaboration where we both sell our product. Primarily we’ll sell fresh produce as available, eggs, jams, jellies, and herbal tea blends.

Even with Coronavirus making a big impact on our local community and especially Keweenaw tourism, we’re still moving along working almost daily on the cabin renovations with hopes that the June completion date and opening as an AirBNB and homestead experience will not be delayed due to the virus. We’ve had several inquiries about staying this summer, so I’m feeling good we will have some rentals if the health of our nation improves and restrictions are lifted.

We’ve started the clean-up of trees that fell into the garden and crushed a long portion of the north garden’s fence during last November’s winter storm. As we clean up the trees that already fell, we’re recognizing that more will need to come down around the garden to avoid a repeat. The fence needs some major repairs, but it’ll just get patched together at this time – to stop the deer from getting into the garden. The garden affected is part of our new property addition and it includes perennials like asparagus, grapes and cultivated blueberry bushes and we have plans to plant elderberry in there, so protecting this space from the deer is essential. 

Tim, taking a break. This photo is taken from inside the north garden. What remains of the fence can be seen through the middle of the photo. Clean up is in progress, but there is a lot to do!

The heavy work season is here and I’m reminded of the exhaustion that exists at the end of the day (and sometimes even the beginning!). However, I’m also reminded that we’re working for ourselves and a perk of being your own boss is that we make the rules and that it’s ok to take a break from the work (although sometimes challenging when you have young kids, even your break isn’t a break!). 

We hope all of our extended small farmer community are well and weathering this storm, a different kind of storm than we are familiar with. 

February 2020 Digest

Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I post the article here too.

03/03/20
Jacobsville, MI
White Sky Woods Homestead

The unusually warm temps (30’s) have us all in the mood for the spring thaw. But, as the calendar turns to March we realize that there are still plenty of opportunities for crazy winter weather to come our way. Our current efforts are focused on planning the garden, reviewing our seed selection to decide what we’re good on and what seeds we need to purchase and lastly, starting our tomato, cucumber, pepper, and other selected vegetables and herb seeds inside.  

In just a few weeks several varieties of plants will be started inside!

Winter days have allowed us to have time for planning the business budget and planning our project calendar. The project calendar serves as a snapshot of the projects and our goal completion dates and almost always coincides with the budget. The biggest projects are the end of spring; we’ll be building our high tunnel, finishing the construction on and then opening the vacation rental cabin on our homestead, and prepping and planting the garden. After that (by mid-June) we’re hoping to keep projects to a minimum (small projects only) to allow more flexibility in our days. We’ll see how this goal plays out! 

Last summer, one of my favorite things was wild edible foraging. With the help of my kids we picked wild raspberry leaves, wild strawberry leaves, Labrador tea, pineapple weed, St. John’s Wort, wild blackberry leaves, mint, red clover, stinging nettle and more. We never had to leave our own property to harvest, the wild edibles are plentiful for our own needs here. My hopes were that we could harvest enough to supply our family a year’s supply of loose leaf herbal tea, which we succeed in! Everything harvested has medicinal properties, but we use them in tea for general wellness – no specific dosing to treat particular health needs. I’ve recently had time to sort through all the foraged goodies we harvested and dried, and I created two yummy tea blend recipes. One is a blend that highlights St. John’s wort for the long winter, and the other is a blend that highlights pineapple weed which gives a fruity flavor but has calming properties. If this summer’s wild foraging harvest is anything like last, I’ll sell small batches of loose leaf and individually bagged teas alongside fresh produce, eggs, jams and jellies this summer. I shared some more details about the tea blends on our blog recently, and also have asked readers for creative names for each blend, perhaps you have a few you’d like to share?

If you haven’t already, how about following us on Facebook & Instagram?

Cheers! Peace, Love and Nature,

-L

October 2019 Digest

Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I post the article here too.

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

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

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

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

Beans, beautiful beans!

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

How about following us on Facebook & Instagram?

Cheers! Peace, Love and Nature,
-L

September 2019 Digest

Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I post the article here too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you follow us on Facebook & Instagram? Hope to see you there!

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.

Do you follow us on Facebook & Instagram? Hope to see you there!

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.

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