Reorganizing the Kitchen Pantry

Winter is the organizational time of year on our homestead. I have a long list of projects I want to accomplish this winter. They include reorganizing the kitchen pantry, cleaning out and reorganizing the bathroom closet spaces, and cleaning out a bedroom drawer to name just a few messy places that need some shaking up.

Pantry one open after reorganizing jpeg

The kitchen pantry after it is cleaned out and reorganized. Yes!

I’m the kind of person who hates clutter. Chaos and clutter in my home drives me wild and severely impacts my ability to think clearly and to function at my peak form. I think clutter taps into an ADD and ADHD gene I fight and drives my mind wild.

Pantry wall all doors closed jpeg

Neat, tidy and clean is my motto!

I’m a “less is more” person and my husband is a more is “more” kind of person so this is place where we clash. The way we have worked this out is this way…I’m in charge of the atmosphere in the house and Gene can do what he wants in the pole barn. This means the house is neat and tidy and the pole barn is a complete disaster piled from floor to ceiling.  Honestly I am NOT kidding you, you cannot imagine just how bad it is.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The workbench side of the pole barn.

I know you think I am exaggerating but take a look here and now let me know if you think I am making this up? My husband is a sweetheart and will do anything I ask him to do but when it come to his personal space….well things run to messy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Things overflowing in the pole barn. Who can think in this?

Most of the time our compromise system works. Thankfully in the summer months we are too busy to focus much on the clutter but it is in the indoor winter months things come to a head. I keep a computer listing of winter projects to help me focus on what needs to get done when the snow falls.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Stuff, stuff and more stuff…

This week I began to tackle our kitchen pantry. Least I sound like I am complaining, please know I feel lucky to have such a large pantry space with matching doors to close off the clutter. When those doors are closed it looks a lot like a nice clean wall. This pantry was built by the people who owned the home prior to us and I silently thank them.

I started by emptying the cupboards out, washing the vinyl shelving protector the previous owners put down and then start to organize like items with like.  It’s not rocket science, throw out the old and unused and reorganize what items remains.

I find things I thought were long gone in an old garage sale, like a salad spinner and a pasta maker. Neither has been used in 18-20 years, so out they go.

One problem area is the salad dressing and cooking oil area. Everything was sitting on an older microwave bacon cooking pan but things were always slipping around, falling over and slipping. I reused an old, deep large Tupperware storage unit that holds all the bottles and will contain any drips or spills. that should fix the problem.

All of our bills, receipts and tax information were in this cupboard too but they are taking up precious space of can goods. Out they go and they will find a new home too perhaps in the office.

It feels so good to get organized once again.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

 

Manifesting a New Homestead

Manifesting a New Homestead

Some of you may not have been reading this blog when I first began it in 20012. That blog was called The Small House Under a Big Sky http://smallhouseunderabigsky.wordpress.com/2012/03/.

In case you are new to our blog you may not be familiar with the story of how we manifested our homestead?

Blue sky house evergreen use this one

A wet snow covered the trees and turned our homestead into a winter wonderland!

We were living in the city, just a mile and half from downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan. We were living in a nice 75- year-old Cape Cod house, in a nice family neighborhood where I had raised my two sons and lived for 24 years. There was only one problem, I had always wanted to live in the country and I wanted to garden in the sunshine.

Bench closer centered

Our vegetable garden and pole barn in the rear and garden bench in the foreground.

As I began to dream Gene and I both wrote out a list of what we were looking for in a home and property. We wanted a one-story home to grow old in and I wanted an open floor plan. I wanted lots of land to garden on and Gene wanted a big pole barn and a pond. I wanted chickens and he wanted large Labrador retrievers with green spaces to run them. And we had to be able to buy it with the profits from the sales of our city home.

Buterfly shrubs and pool and pole barn

Our snow covered raspberry patch near the pool shack.

Disclaimer. Be careful of what you wish for as it will come true….

How We Got from the City to Our Homestead-Written In Thanksgiving…

When Gene and I made the decision to move to the county to grow our own food and have a more earth centered, hands in the earth lifestyle, we made a plan to get here. This was a long term plan that took a lot of hard work and some time to make it real. Homesteading does not happen overnight and neither do major lifestyle changes.

bench apple tree pole barn

Our homesteads pole barn through the apple tree.

Our plan was this;

  1. We would make our city home ready to put on the market while we looked for a country home. We would not spend more on the new home than we could get from our old one. We would only move if we sold our home and found another at the same time – no expensive bridge loans for us.
  2. Gene would keep his IT job in the city for our income and I would quit my job to prepare for the sale, pack up the house, make the move and begin again in our new home. I would paint and prepare the new home and get things up and running on our garden and so on.
  3. Gene would continue working until his retirement age, approx. 9 years away. We would scale back our lifestyle so that we could live on one income.
  4. I would continue writing feature articles from home for a few years and then I would start a small county business using my skills as an artist, marketing specialist and advertising pro.
  5. We wanted a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, one-story home with a first floor bedrooms and laundry that we could age in with out-buildings for storage and animals.
  6. We were hoping for a brick or fieldstone sided home because we love that low and for low maintenance. (After years of dealing with old two-story windows) we wanted newish windows that could be easily cleaned from the inside.
  7. We were looking for about 5-acres of land with lots of sun and space to put in a large garden so we could grow our own vegetables with the goal of keeping chickens at some later, manageable date.
  8. We wanted to be close to lakes, rivers, forests and open green space where we could hike, kayak, run a dog and generally enjoy the beautiful of a our beautiful state once retired.
  9. I was very serious about not being too near agricultural fields where fertilizers would effect our organic food garden.

In the end we manifested a one-story but older 1950’s Ranch-style home in the largest agricultural county in the state of Michigan that was part of a family estate. The five adult children who had inherited this home were willing to dicker with us which made the purchase possible for us. Our city home had to sell first of course and it sold to the first couple that walked through the door and made an offer. They paid our asking price, not even asking us to take less although BUT we had to be out of the house in just three weeks or pay a penalty.

House diaganol shows trellis

The Small House up close.

The country home sellers took $20,000 less than the original asking price to meet our goal of buying for the exact amount for selling city home sale. Success! That was certainly a challenge but we made it. Three weeks later we were in a new house in a new city!!

Copper boiler filled up close use

Michigan Holly and juniper branches in an old copper boiler.

It happened so fast it made my head spin. Sometimes abundance is like that!

House front SNOWY w Thanksgiving text and leaf jpeg

May you have abundance this Thanksgiving as well!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

 

 

Signs of Health and Wealth on our Homestead

It warmed up to 46 degree here at the homestead today so we took advantage of that warming trend to get a few lingering outside chores completed. Although the day is still gray and damp it is warm enough to be outside working. Even the chickens wanted to be out and about today.

Gen closing gate interestingview

Gene is adding the new gate he built from scratch to the south side of our vegetable garden.

Today Gene finished building the southern gate for our vegetable garden. We have been entering it from the north side but this second gate will give us a second option and be a bit more convenient. We will no longer have to walk through the chicken run in order to get into the garden, which will be an extra perk.

Chickens =logs-straw USE

The chicken in their run with stumps for playing on and straw bales to protect them from the westerly winds we have here.

I worked on shoveling and spreading our homemade composted since the snow on the compost pile has melted. This is an outside chore I always hope to get done in the fall so the compost has a chance to further break down and the nutrition and microorganisms can make their way into the roots of my perennials by spring.

Freckles USE

One of the “three amigos.”

We are still in the process of reorganizing the kitchen pantry but decided it was important enough to move to the outside chores to take advantage of the nicer weather.

Sassy watching chickens

Sassy comes over to investigate the chickens.

The chickens wanted out of the coop first thing this morning so they spent the day free ranging in their run and in the vegetable garden too. They are doing a fine job of digging up the weedy side of the garden where I hope to put our hoop house next summer. We bought 5 large metal hoops from a garden club for just $20.00 so that will be the beginning of our hoop house to allow us to extend our growing season even further. I am researching plans for hoop houses this winter.

Clover and babies close USE

Clover and babies in the vegetable garden.

I am grateful for this reprieve from winter, for the heath and strength to do the work we want to do and the time in which to do it. This makes me think if the old saying I’ve seen cross stitched onto throw pillows …”Health, wealth and the time to enjoy them both.”

In my opinion that’s the symbol of true wealth for a homesteader.

Small House Homestead, Donna

Sunshine! Big Steps for Little Chickens

Clover up babies up USE

Clover and the chickie babies brave the snow on their feet today for the first time.

Today the sun came out on the homestead; the winds died down, the temperatures rose from the teens into the 30’s and our chickens came out of the coop for the first time in more than a week. O happy day!

Our area of SW Michigan had, like many other parts of the US, have been hit by the Polar Vortex of cold, snow and high winds. The poor chickens had been stuck inside of the coop for days on end. Momma Clover will not bring those babies out when it is windy and momma knows best!

Clover 4 babies all sun USE THIS ONE

Chicken scratch farm!

I wasn’t sure if the 8 week-old-chicken babies would actually come out into the snow but I opened the coop up and swept the snow off the gangplank and give them the option. Low and behold, out they came, slipping and sliding down the gangplank and a while later we found them pecking at the green grass, scratching about and trying to dust in the still frozen dirt under their coop.

When we designed the coop and run we purposefully put the structure on a 2″ X 4″s stilt-like-base to create a place that we hopes would become rain free hangout if caught out in the rain. But we didn’t know if it would really work…

Chickens and tarp USE

The tarp is snug under the bales of straw holding it down while creating a draft free “play pen.”

When it began to snow we tied up a tarp on the west-facing side in the hope that not only would the tarp break the wind it would give the chickens a small snow-free space to peck and scratch.

I am proud to report back that this strategy worked!

Let me explain in more detail. When we built the straw bales wind block wall  we purposefully attached the tarp on the inside of the straw wall to leave them an area that had the potential of staying snow free (at least until the real winter snow arrives.)

Area under the coop grassy USE

This is the snow free area under the coop where Clover decided to dust today. It worked!

Today I found them working that grassy area, happy as well…. chickens! This gave them a mostly snow-free, wind-free sunny area to hang out and peck to their hearts content. It feels wonderful and satisfying to know that our theory succeeded!

To help them stay warm enough for their outdoor playtime, I gave them a handful of thistle seeds and a half of a handful of dried meal worms. Meals worms are quickly turning into their favorite treat for sure. In fact, Momma has already figured that the plastic bag represent meal worms and she come right over to me and pecks at the bag.

I sat very quiet and put the mealworms on my knee and they came right up to me and pecked them off my knee for the first time. More success!

While they ate and scratched I took the opportunity to open up the coop to air it thoroughly out, sifted through the litter to remove frozen poop and add more cedar shavings to build another layer warmth.

The airing out of the coop also helped with our ongoing humidity issue which dropped from the 80 percentile to the 50 percentile. And more success!

It was an absolute blast to not only know that my plan worked but that the chickens are getting more and more use to me. They pecked for food all around my body, not at all concerned that I am 100 times bigger than them. They are getting more and more tame and definitely gentled. I think they have finally come to accept me as “The Food Machine.”

I am imaging that my farmer and chicken keeper grandmother is up in heaven looking down on me and laughing. Today made me very happy!

Small House Homestead Chicken Keeper, Donna

 

Homesteading as a Lifestyle Choice

IHouse SNOW arborvitae USE

Our homestead under a November blizzard.

My day starts early on the homestead, somewhere around 5 or 6 a.m. There are animals to be fed, chores to be done and snow shoveling…always snow shoveling. Gene is off working at Menard’s so I am in charge of the homestead today.

Pole barn in snow USE

Not fancy, but dry, our old pole barn shelters our vehicles, chicken feed, lawn tractors and my canning gear.

While many farm folks call their a.m. and p.m. work their chores, I’ve taken to calling my chores my rounds. This is like an animal that checks its territory every day to make sure no invaders have been around. Have you noticed that kind of behavior in your farm dogs?

Ball Sassy CUTE

Sassy with her ball. Snow dog!

I start first by throwing a load of laundry in the washer and then dress in my warm clothing to check in on and feed the chicken babies. I figure they are the most vulnerable and the hungriest after a long cold night. I learned recently that chickens do not eat at night because it is dark and they can’t see well enough to find their food. Being used to hunting dogs, who located everything with their noses, this comes as a surprise to me.

109th covered in snow

This is the road in front of our home during the blizzard. No traffic!

The chickens go first; fed, watered and their coop cleaned out. I’ve been worried about the high humidity in our coop but have been hesitant to keep a window open especially with babies not fully feathered in this subzero temperatures. Today I cracked a window using a paint stick on the window under the tarp that I hope is getting the least amount of wind in the coop today. Baby chickens need to be kept out of drafts too. The coop humidity has been running at 85% and it needs to be closer to 50%.  I have to figure out a way to make this happen. I’ll keep you posted on this issue.

USE two up two down USE

An inside view of our coop when the chicken babies came to us at about 2 weeks old.

I did not see Snowball eating today and she seemed to be breathing a bit harder while resting on the roost bar the rest of the babies so I am keeping a close eye on her today. I am worrying about mold growing in the coop from the high humidity. I am looking for a used small dehumidifier to help with that situation.

Then I walk back to the house to get Sassy for her long block a.m. walk. We have two paths in the woods that we walk every day and often several times a day; the long block and the short block. There are many more trails in the woods leading back to other property owners land but these two are where Sassy is allowed to go. Even though it is against out township ordinance, we have many lose dogs here in our rural area, sometime running packs, and I don’t want her wandering off into the wood unattended. With deer hunting going on she wears a bright orange collar with a bell. I like that I can hear where she is even if I cannot see her for a moment or two.

VERT Sassy snow beard USE

My faithful sidekick, helper and protector, Sassy loves to help me “feed the birds.”

Then together Sassy and I check the songbird garden bed giving the birds their seeds and water. Sassy is always hunting for dead or injured birds…a hunting dog is always a hunting dog.

If there is mail to go out it gets put into the mailbox and if there are other outside chores we do them while I am dressed warmly. Shovel the sidewalks, scrape away the snow at the chicken run gate, and dump the kitchen scraps into the compost and so on.

Sidewalk and barn

The sidewalk between our porch and driveway is our main entry point for family and friends.

Today I also changed out the Halloween flag and décor at our front door. Even though we haven’t even celebrated Thanksgiving yet, winter came upon us so quickly this year that I had not yet made the switch over. Usually I leave up the Thanksgiving items up and don’t do Christmas things until a few weeks later but this year we are in winter lockdown and I feel like I might as well get them out before the snow gets too deep. Fourteen years of living in the snow belt, has taught me that 93” in of snow in a month is not unusual here. Last year we had the bitter cold AND 6 ft. of snow by the end of winter. Homesteading is definitely not for the faint of heart!

This is homesteading as a lifestyle choice. My job is not a difficult one but this home centered life brings me great joy and satisfaction in a job well done. I really like knowing I am keeping this place running smoothly and contributing not in cash but in comfort. I am happy that I can have a hot homemade meal on the stove when my husband comes home from work. I can greet him at the door and let him know in words and in smiles that I am happy that he had come home to me again.

This is radical homemaking at its finest!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

 

Cold Snap on the Homestead -Dealing with Chickens

Like a marshmallow white winter…..we are in a the midst of a severe cold snap with blizzard conditions here on the homestead. Brrrrrrr!

Pool shack decor in snow USE

Like a picture postcard….the back of the pool shack in the snow.

Last night before dinner we lost our power. Without a backup generator on the homestead we simply unplugged the electronics, lit our candles, got out the flashlights and after checking in on our elderly neighbor who lives alone and is on oxygen, we crawled into bed with a flashlight and our books. No dinner for us last night!

Coop both iles of straw USE

We are trying to block the strong westerly winds from the chicken coop and run with straw bales and tarps.

We’ve talk about buying a generator but in the fourteen years we have lived here we have only lost our power once or twice and for just a few hours each time. We estimate that with the electrician and the generator, that bill would be close to $2,000. Something else is always more immediate.

HORZ poolshack-fence-pine USE

Snow on the pool shack and in the woods. 

Thankfully when we woke up in the morning we had our power back. I am very grateful because if we did not I was going to start hauling wood (in spite of my bad back) and build a roaring fire in our conventional fireplace in the hopes of keeping the pipes from freezing.

Pole barn in snow USE

Snow coming down at the pole barn….I’m going nowhere today!

A regional news program is predicting 13”-14” of snow by the end of this event.  If you are considering moving to a homestead be sure you can handle these ups and downs. This is life in a rural area!

Ball Sassy CUTE

Sassy with her ball. She and I play kick the ball everyday. I kick and she retrieves!

My main concern now is our baby chickens. If you follow our blog you know that we adopted these chickens late this fall. We rescued a Cochin Momma hen and her five two weeks old chicks. We’ve had a crash course in taking care of chicken babies and learned a lot along the way.

VERT Birdhouse in meadow jpg

Snow is stacking up on the bluebird house in the meadow.

Since daylight is just coming on, I’m about ready to bundle up and go out and check on them. I’m torn between doing frequent checks to reassure myself that they are fine, and letting in a new blast of COLD air each time I open the coop. So I allow myself a check in three times during the day, plus the morning opening and night closing.

Bench in snow USE

The main symptoms I am looking for is the babies huddling together and cheeping loudly.

When I went out to feed them they were quiet. As I walk up to the coop I always talk to them to let them know it’s me and not a predator about to enter their run. As soon as I open the coop they began to cheap softly, since I am the food machine. They were not even huddled under momma, which is what I expected.

Today I gave them cracked corn and introduced meal worms for the first time.  I am hoping that the worms do not upset them in any way but they were eating garden worms while free-ranging before the snow arrived, so I think they will be just fine. I figure that in this extreme cold they need the extra protein and energy to stay warm.

My reward today was when I went out for my afternoon chicken check and momma Clover and ALL five babies were sitting happily on the roost bar for the first time all-together.

JoJo, the littlest baby (the one without many adult feathers yet) seems to be hanging out in the plastic bin full of shavings. I am assuming it is warmer in there and that is why. But I am watching JoJo carefully as she does not seem to be growing at the same rate as the other babies.  I am guessing she is at the bottom of the pecking order and may be being kept from her fair share of food by her siblings.

Today the chickens were fed first, then Sassy was walked and played with, I fed and watered the songbirds  and then I ate my breakfast. That’s the order of priority in my life right now. The littlest and most at risk get taken care of first here on our homestead.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

P.S. When I want out for my afternoon “chicken check” I found Momma Clover and ALL five babies sitting happily and comfortably on the chicken roost bar – all together. Success!

 

Inspired by our Homesteads Majestic White Oak Trees

Great oaks from little acorns grow…

One of the tops reason we bought our 5-acre property was due to the many beautiful White Oak trees we found here. They add so much beauty and wonderful cooling shade to our property. At first count we found 47 White Oak trees on our property, plus the black oaks, cherries, sassafras, dogwoods and other trees living here.

Pool house woods Sassy best

Sassy stands in the snowy pathway Gene blows the paths to allow us to walk or snowshoe in our woods during the snowy months.

Surely no tree captures our imagination more than an oak. Often living for hundreds of years, oaks support a diversity of life above and below the ground, a rhizosphere community, where a symbiotic relationship exists between diverse species. Native oaks rely on soil microbes and bacteria that produce growth regulators for the tips of new roots, while the new roots create a sort of sugary mucus to feed the bacteria.

Pool and polebarnbigblue sky

The pool shack with chain link fencing sits in front of the pole barn with its blacksmith forge extension.

Oak trees support at least 534 moth and butterfly caterpillars, the most of any native tree. Acorns feed countless creatures and shoot out a tap-root practically the instant they hit the ground. Properly sited, an oak won’t grow stereotypically slowly, but will grow several feet annually and last for generations.

While the acorns of most oaks are edible, many contain a good deal of tannins which render the acorns very bitter to the taste.

You can do as the Native Americans did and leach the tannins out by repeated soaking in fresh water, dumping the water, and re-soaking the acorns. But it is much easier and faster to plant or harvest more edible acorns.

Generally, the white oak family has the sweetest acorns, requiring very little (if any) leaching. These oaks include the white oak, burr oak, chestnut leaf oak, and turkey oak. There are also many selected seedling trees and hybrids developed for human consumption, so if you want to plant some oaks to harvest the acorns for food, you have many different trees available.

Oaks are all beautiful trees to have around and most are hardy from Zones 3-9, depending on the variety. The acorns develop all summer and fall to the ground without a husk when ripe, making picking and shelling very easy. Acorn shells are pliable and thin.

As with all nuts, it’s a good idea to dry the nuts for a week or so in a single layer in a protected environment, so they don’t mold in storage.

Pool house fence blue sky nice

This is the view of the woods that I see looking out of our dining room window.

There are some beautiful myths about the oak tree that I love.

In Baltic mythology, the oak is the sacred tree of Latvian Pērkons, Lithuanian Perkūnas and Prussian Perkūns. Pērkons is the god of Thunder and one of the most important deities in the Baltic pantheon.

In Celtic mythology, it is the tree of doors, believed to be a gateway between worlds, or a place where portals could be erected.

In Norse mythology, the oak was sacred to the thunder god, Thor. Some scholars speculate that this is because the oak, as the largest tree in northern Europe, was the one most often struck by lightning. Thor’s Oak was a sacred tree of the Germanic Chatti tribe. Its destruction marked the Christianisation of the heathen tribes by Saint Boniface.

In Classical mythology, the oak was a symbol of Zeus and his sacred tree. An example is the oracle of Dodona, which in prehistory consisted solely of a holy oak.

In the Bible, the oak tree at Shechem is the site where Jacob buries the foreign gods of his people (Gen. 35:4) . In addition, Joshua erects a stone under an oak tree as the first covenant of the Lord (Josh. 24.25-7). In Isaiah 61, the prophet refers to the Israelites as “Oaks of Righteousness”.

In Slavonic mythology, the oak was the most important tree of the god Perun.

The acorn, the seed of the oak tree, is the universal symbol of patience, endurance and well-earned bounty. In folk art, carved acorns are commonly used to decorate furniture and other objects.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is the cedar sign I had handmade and carved for Gene one year for Christmas.

The acorn is the image I picked for our logo when we first moved here and opened The Whit Oak Studio & Gallery and the White Oak Blacksmith Forge. I am working on our acorn logo this winter and hope to incorporate it into my blog soon. Stay tuned!

Small House Homesteader, Donna