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

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.

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

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

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.

It’s Spring Cluttering Time!

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!

sprouting plants in soil
Thermometer in soil, used to monitor a constant temperature that is ideal for germination and growth.

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.).

Eggplant and tomatoes, happily growing under lights.

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.

eggs in incubator
Our own duck and chicken eggs in the incubator.

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!

Peace, Love & Nature,

-Lisa

Homestead Dreamin’ – a Decade Later.

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!

Our first “home” – in the early days of White Sky Woods.

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.

The “Cider House” in the background, in the same location as the original camper.

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. 🙂

Our yurt, early winter 2018.

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.

Peace, Love & Nature,

-Lisa

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Exciting Homestead Announcement!

A year and a half has come and gone since our move to the homestead in June, 2017. Did I have any idea the major amount of work and progress we would have achieved in the first year and a half? Nope! Although sometimes it’s hard to see it through my own perspective because I usually see things as what needs to be done, rather than spending time thinking about what has been done. It’s the comments by visitors that helps me see the amount of hard work we’ve put into our homestead in such little time. We’ve often heard things like “how long have you been here, a decade or so?” or “I can’t believe how much you’ve achieved in such little time.”

In winter, it brings me an even clearer perspective of the past. While we’ve lived here for a year and a half, almost all the major outdoor work is done May through October since those are the months when weather generally cooperates for projects to take place and the ground is not frozen. No wonder we are so busy all summer!

The start of 2019 brings even more growth. Our exciting homestead announcement is that we officially launched our business – White Sky Woods Homestead, LLC! In 2019, we’ll be expanding our ethically and pasture-raised meat to hogs and rabbits. Being an LLC will allow us to invest in better systems on our homestead that will benefit people and animals. It will allow us to further educate ourselves and therefore offer more services around the products we offer.

Our intention for our homestead continues to be a focus on self-reliance and sustainability. However, we’ve found it to be very pleasing to bring ethically raised, high-quality meat product to other people who are interested in finding this locally. We are so thankful for our 2018 buyers, and are stoked for what will come of 2019!

Our son Woodland with the chickens and ducks on a winter day.

Maybe you’ve purchased a pasture-raised hog, maybe you’re a new friend or you know us from our pre-homesteading life. Perhaps being like-minded, you’ve stumbled across us on social media or the web. All of the support by words of encouragement, a simple like on our social posts, or the purchase of a pasture-raised hog is meaningful to where we are headed with our new business. THANK YOU ALL!

1,200 pounds of food for FREE.

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.)

IMG_2180
Hauling pumpkins away from gracious strangers.

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.

IMG_2194
Our young helpers, Flora and Woodland.

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.

IMG_2185
Happy pigs!

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
  • Looking for “apprentice” type relationship.
  • Current employment is stable, so no set timeline

Please share!

Peace, Love, and Nature,

-L