A 5 Foot Fence is Not a 5 Foot Fence in Winter

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.

After the blizzard we found both the chickens AND the ducks in the Chickshaw – a first!
This shows part of the path in the Poultry/Rabbit yard. Note 5 foot tall fence in background – about 4 feet under the naturally fallen (non-piled up) snow. The snow the kids are walking on is approximately 2 feet above ground level.
The chicken feeder was completely buried with about 1-2 feet of snow drift over it. About 1 foot of it is still under the snow.
Note how fence just disappears into the snow on the right side of this image. This is a fence we’ve been attempting to keep clear throughout the winter. It’s a 3 foot tall fence. Don’t tell the goats, but they can jump right out.
There is a 450 pound pig in there….somewhere. I actually shouted out loud when I saw her looking out at me, alive!
Additional problems present themselves, like a door that doesn’t close. I cleared absolutely every spot around and within this door, and it still doesn’t close!
The entire driveway was covered in 3-5 feet of snow that had drifted over (even though it had been snowblowed 2 times the day before). This shovel is leaning against a drift to show how tall the drifting was. Tim worked relentlessly to plow through this with the snowblower, it took a long time.

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!

The stop sign down the road from our homestead.

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? 🙂

Peace, Love & Nature,

-Lisa

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These Cookies are Wild!

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!

Woodland mixing the butter, sugar and pine needle powder.

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!

Handiwork from kids!

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!

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Wishing you winter warmth.

Peace, Love and Nature,

-L

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.)

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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.

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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.

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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

Puzzled by Minimalism, Creative Solutions!

So, I had this image of sitting around getting snowed in for our first winter here. Afterall, even locals laughed at the idea of us living out here in winter. Our UPS delivery woman politely asked last November, “are you actually staying here all winter?”  With all the warnings of a “Yooper” winter, you can see why we thought our winter would be relaxed….no where to go, nothing to do. Afterall, our area gets an average of 250+ inches of snow annually. Yet, it’s now March and I don’t recall this whole sitting around thing happening.  What actually happened is that Tim picked up more hours on the job, I started and finished my certification as a Medical First Responder, and our kids kept busy with friends, activities, and lots of playtime in the snow. We’ve also done a lot of snowshoeing and exploring around our property, which looks so different in winter.

 

Maybe, in my wildest dreams, I was hoping winter would be an excuse to be lazy…but, it hasn’t exactly panned out. I won’t complain, because I do like keeping busy, within reason. Well, part of my lazy winter dream was to have a puzzle to work on at any whim. I like puzzles – they are relaxing, you can still have conversation while you do it, and you can come and go from it as you please. Plus, I think it’s good for the mind to be able to focus on details. Winter is the perfect time to do a puzzle when you might be stuck inside due to bad weather (although we’ve found that bad weather doesn’t stop us).

But, we have a slight problem with this puzzle idea. We are 4 people living in a yurt, and we don’t have a ton of “free space” to just set up a puzzle and have it sitting around all the time. We can’t build it on our kitchen table, because that’s where we eat. Getting a second table isn’t an option because we don’t have space, plus we try not to have anything here that isn’t really a necessity, attempting to live more minimally. So, time for some creative problem solving, gosh I love that (I’m not being sarcastic here). How can we build a puzzle without taking up current needed areas, and without getting something new or taking up more space?

Easy, time to retrofit our kitchen table into a puzzle table and kitchen table! This was my idea, and Tim made my concept come true. Our kitchen table is nothing special, so taking it apart was low risk.

First, the table top was removed.  I’ll be honest, parents with young children…if you haven’t looked UNDER your table lately, I recommend against it unless you think you really need to know.  I scrubbed off some things that, oh boy, I have no idea what they were.

Puzzle Table
Removed table top.

 

Topless Table
Table without top. Ready to put in secondary puzzle table top.

Then, Tim built a table within the table that would be the space for our puzzle. It’s 4 sided, so bonus that no puzzle pieces should fall off while being worked on!

Puzzle Table
Table top built under original table top.

Lastly, the table top was fitted with properly placed dowels so that when put back ontop, it would not slide off. And just like that, it was time to work on the puzzle! When done, just put the table top back on! Unless you knew, there is no telling there is a puzzle “in” the table”. The table is not huge, so for 1-2 adults, the top is easily removed and leaned up against the wall.

Puzzle Table
Time to put the first puzzle together!

I was giddy with joy to see my idea of a puzzle table come to fruition. <–Geek.

Looking forward to spending downtime at this table as a family.  This puzzle is too complex for our 3-year old, but our 8-year old is already having a good time with it!

Viva la puzzle table!

Peace, Love and Nature,

-L

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Projects Reminiscent of Summertime

Today’s is Groundhog Day! The kids and I watched the famous “Punxsutawney Phil” make his prediction. He predicted 6 more weeks of winter! Man, the crowd there in Pennsylvania was disappointed. From our research though, historically he’s only been 20% accurate, so don’t place any bets on his prediction – ha!

Readers to our blog live in various places, so I’m sure there are many differing ideas about what winter has been like and if it would be nice if it continued. I realize this is only our first winter here on the Keweenaw Peninsula (47th parallel north), but we’ve been loving it. It’s nice to live in a place where winter isn’t just cold with a little bit of snow here and there, but a place where it’s mild (okay, cold sometimes too), but has enough snow to truly enjoy the beauty of a white and sparkly snowy winter. The best of our winter has been snowshoeing around our own property, and finding various routes to Lake Superior on snowshoe. Winter has been very busy for us otherwise and we haven’t spent nearly the time we have wanted to snowshoeing.

Our recent homestead projects included a few things that have me thinking about summertime.

1.) We’re still enjoying squash after squash that were harvested from the garden this past Autumn. They are so sweet and delightful and I’ve been preparing them in many different ways. The squash we grew this summer were spaghetti squash and buttercup squash. We are planning on more variety in the upcoming summer. One of my favorite recipes to make is 3 Sisters Soup.

2.) I made a big batch of strawberry jam from a strawberry stock-up this summer that I had froze for just this purpose.

The jam tastes like the summer sun! Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit in saying that, but it’s GOOD!

3.) I pickled carrots. There was a good deal on carrots at the grocery store and I was in the mood for something a little different so I made a few jars of refrigerator carrots. I did an experiment using my simple refrigerator pickle recipe; I tried apple cider vinegar for one batch and regular white vinegar for another. The family favorite was the white vinegar.

4.) Last summer one of our first homesteading project was to pick and dry loads of wild raspberry leaf and wild strawberry leaf. It was great forward thinking on my part, if I might say so. 🙂 We’ve been enjoying tea brewed with the dried leaves. The best combination seems to be raspberry leaf, strawberry leaf, a few dried flowers from St. John’s Wort, and some ground-up dried elderberries.

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A taste of summer comes with tea brewed from our own wild harvested leaves.

5.) Another recent project we’ve been working on is our family Nature Journal. It’s part of our homeschooling and we try for at least one entry a week. Today Flora made an entry inspired by Groundhog Day.  It went as follows:

3 things I’ll do if Winter stays:

  1. Build a snowman.
  2. Watch the Chickadees.
  3. Watch the Deer.

3 things I’ll do if Spring comes early:

  1. Watch the Deer fawns.
  2. Watch the baby birds hatch.
  3. Pick flowers!

What’s your list include?

Peace, Love, and Nature,

-L

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3 Ways to Warm Yourself in Winter

The sun is shining, but darn….it’s COLD! 1 degree Farenheit, but feels like -11 with the windchill. Thank goodness for the routine of heading outside in the morning and evening to care for our animals, otherwise I’m not sure I would have any reason to leave the house on days this cold. For the first few minutes of pig and chicken chores, I actually like the cold air. It’s a definite wake-me-up! But, when my fingers and toes start to tingle, then the enjoyment fades. So far, our 2 pigs and 7 chickens seem to be hanging in there. Our hens are still laying eggs! Now that’s a superpower.

pigs
Happy, snowy pigs.

Over the past 2 months we’ve had our share of snow (about 2 1/2 feet of snow on the ground here, but other local areas have experienced MUCH more). We’ve also had our share of fluctuating temperatures, ranging from 39 degrees to -20 degrees Farenheit. During our first winter here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we’re quickly learning some important ways to stay warm.

1.) Wear the right clothes for the weather!

I’m doing my best to embrace the Norwegian Quote: “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing.” I’ve quickly learned that what counts is wearing layers. At any given time, including inside, I have 3 layers on my top and 2 on my bottom. It seems obvious maybe, but this really makes a difference – albeit a pain in the butt for getting dressed, getting undressed, and doing laundry!  Warm socks and a decent underlayer are necessities. For outdoor chores I’ve also decided that looking scary in my balaclava is a must for warmth. It freaks out the kids, but my face stays oh so warm!

2.) Being “lazy” is okay!

I used to think that watching movies or lingering around the house for too long was being lazy. But, this slow down is exactly what winter here is all about. It also has allowed us to have more time to start new habits doing things that always were pushed aside before because we didn’t have time.

Our homeschool Nature Journal for instance. The kids are having a fun time with it, but I think I am equally or more engaged with it! Sometimes we are inspired from trips outside, but on very cold days we observe from our windows – taking time to enjoy the chickadees, or the deer and turkey that have now become very comfortable with yurt life as well.

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3.) Nothing warms you up more than good friends.

On New Years Day we hosted our first annual “Dessert at the Yurt”. I prepared several sweet treats that were themed by our homestead (made with goods from our own garden) or inspired by the Keweenaw area. For instance, “Not Your Garden Variety Zucchini Bread”, a Chocolate Zucchini Bread and “Snow on Top Basalt”, Oreo Trifle. The food was good, but the company was even better. Since our move in June, we’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many good people here on the Keweenaw and growing friendships with them.

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First Annual “Dessert at the Yurt”

Worried about space in our yurt, we managed to comfortably fit 17 adults and 8 kids! During and reflecting afterwards, our hearts were so warm. We have so much gratitude and love for our new community and friends. We have not experienced such an amazing community before. So many brilliant minds and beautiful souls surrounded us at this gathering. How is it possible to not feel warmed (hypothetically, of course) when surrounded by that?

One friend described the yurt as “wrapping it’s warm arms around you.”  Yes!

Wishing you winter warmth.

Peace, Love and Nature,

-L