Potato Planting Day at the Homestead

Today I planted our organic potatoes seeds.

Potatoes in ground USE

Organic seed potatoes going into the ground.

I had ordered a sampler set of seed potatoes from Wood Prairie Farm www.woodprairie.com this past February to test what variety does best in our soil and conditions. Then I’ll know exactly what to order next season.

This years garden layout USE

This seasons garden layout plan.

I have been sprouting them in the dark warm closet in our laundry room the past two weeks and they have finally sprouted. You can order toll-free at 1-800-829-9765. They also have a help line at (207) 429-9765.

Sas USEsy the garden helper

Sassy the garden helper.

Wood Prairie farms is a family owned farm in Maine that grows and sells USDA certified organic potatoes and cover crops and other roots crops as well. Everything they sell is organic and GMO free. I wrote about them last winter on my blog and that detailed piece can be seen here https://smallhousebigskyhomestead.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1497&action=edit

While I was planting our potatoes Gene was putting up the stakes and strings that will be our trellis for our climbing beans and peas this season. He also sucked up leaves and put them down as mulch around our shallow raised bed to hold the weeds down.

Gene putting up string for trellis USE

Up goes the stakes and string that will hold the climbing beans.

I decided to try the “Experimenters Special” sampler box that holds four different kinds of potatoes; All Blue, Elba, Dark Red Norland and Yukon Gem to test to see what does the best here in our soil and our USDA Zone 5b growing conditions.

10 Tips for The Organic Potato Patch

  1. Faithfully rotate garden crops. Never plant potatoes after another nightshade like tomatoes.
  2. Treat your garden to generous amounts of organic matter; cover crops , leaves, straw.
  3. Potatoes love fertility; barnyard manure is wonderful when composted or fully aged.
  4. Promote plant health with regular sprays of liquid seaweed and liquid fish.
  5. Plant the best certified seed available.
  6. Warm seed for a day or two or greensprout prior to planting.
  7. Cut seed tubers into blocky pieces containing at least two eyes.
  8. Plant shallow for fast emergence;1” deep in the north and 4” deep in the south.
  9. Hill soil around plants, 2-3 times beginning when they are 4 to 6” inches high.
  10. Keep well watered
  11. Handpick and control insects.
  12. Harvest anytime you desire after tubers reach marble size.

Last seasons beets and carrots USEWhile digging I found some lovely beets and carrots from last years garden. They made a tasty side dish for lunch today.

More photographs to come when the leaves and stems come out of the ground!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Our coop in the Backyard Poultry Magazines Photo Contest

Our Chicken Chalet chicken coop is among the top 40 coop submissions in the Backyard Poultry Magazines “Coolest Coops Contest 2015.”

BPM issued a call for “Creative Ways to House Poultry” this winter so I submitted our mostly repurposed chicken coop that we built last summer.

Coop walking into run USE THIS as ONE

Our mostly repurposed Chicken Chalet chicken coop.

Then the wait began…

Today, Backyard Poultry Magazine put the coops and the place to vote on their on-line website.

Backyard Poultry Cover

Backyard Poultry Cover

It’s a photo contest and if we could win we could win $100.00 gift card. So PLEASE go on their site and vote!!

Coop-galnanized-duster-flagjpeg USE gate slightly open interesting jpeg Run fence and coop USE Flag and galvanized watererrtjpeg

We are coop number 34, so if you feel so inspired please vote for us and our coop.

If you want a source for more information on raising urban or rural backyard chickens you can subscribe at www.backyardpoultrymag.com/subscribe.

Website at: http://www.backyardpoultrymag.com/

If you wish to “like” their Facebook page you can do it here: http://www.facebook.com/BackyardPoultry

Thank you!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Photo Diary 3 – Day 6 and a Birthday Celebration

I moved the chicks to a bigger brooder box today. They were climbing up their stick roost and trying to fly out of their red plastic recycle bin brooder and it was only a matter of days untill they did.

Teatime in the coop w text collage jpeg

All their familiar things are tucked in their new brooder; their “jungle gym” sticks, their clumps of dirt and grass. Their food and water. I added a small dog size plastic Frisbee filled with grit and they took right to it. They are also now eating fermented chicken feed in a jar lid and loving that.

Sisterly love green blue cup USE

Snuggling sisters.

The chicklet’s now have tail feathers showing. These are rapidly developing birds that are jumping up and flying down already!

We had a third photo shoot today, though a bit of a rushed one I admit. We are celebrating three birthdays today, my son Darron, my granddaughter Brenna and my husband Gene so I’ve been up since 6 a.m. getting our food ready.

Knomes perched cut elightly blury

Is it time for the tea party yet?

I needed to marinate the chicken, prep the green beans, toss the salad, make the potato casserole and the corn bread. The table is set and all that is left to do is make the fresh fruit salsa that will top the chicken.

Gene will grill the chicken while I bake the rest of the items. The weather report has promised a nice warm day and it is already sunny, so this should be a read letter day for sure.

I mean really you want me to do what

Dutch treat!

I’m very excited that my granddaughter will be able to hold the chicks, collect eggs, help grandpa with a few farm chores and generally enjoy the country.

Brennas hands with eggs 2015

Brenna loves to collect eggs.

Brenna full length with her first egg

My darling girl is happy with her first egg. It was still warm when she found it.

Today fast paced photo shoot included more teacups photographs for a special creative project I have had. More about that in a future post.

Give me your profile please

I hope you don’t expect me to do that?

I also put a chick in an egg cup and put an egg in the child’s eggs cup and it turned out, if I may say so, quite adorable.

Tw HORIZ teacups maybe

No way am I ever gonna produce that!

I am happy with the progress these photographs although I still have to photo edit and crop most of them in order to be 100% satisfied.

I have written an article and hope to use these photographs to illustrate it. More about that as the process develops.

Ivy cup cute

I’ll have some spiced cider please.

Small House Homesteader, photographer and chicken keeper, Donna

Photo Diary – Day 5 – Super Chicks

Three in a row nice soft focus

Pst…have you heard the latest gossip?

These chicks are really something. I can’t say that they are “smart” but they are certainly born with every instinct they need for survival and they have plenty of them. It’s only day five and already they are scratching, pecking, dusting and perching. Amazing!

Perched adorable

Hold on tight there sis!


  1. Scratching up their paper towels into torn bits and eating them.  Yes, they are environmentally friendly towels, but still I don’t want them eating them. I switched to pine shavings.
  2. Dusting in the pine chips so I added a pile of sand for them
  3. Perching during yesterday’s photo shoot, so I added a twig to perch on in their brooder.
  4. Had real chick sized poops.
  5. Their primary and secondary wing feathers are developing.
  6. Perching on the side of their chick feeder and sometimes scratching the food out of the tiny oval hole to the floor.


  1. I added dehydrated kale from last year’s garden to their growing menu. I crumble it and put it right into their feeder and they gobbled it up.


  1. Fresh dandelion leaves, dried basil and honey steeped tea.


  1. Added a couple of sticks in the brooder for perching.
  2. Put their feeder and water bottle up on blocks of wood to try to keep them cleaner. (A  lost cause!)

Three in a row nice soft focus

 It’s a hen party.Move over darlin'Hey little darling, move over please!

Butt to butt

 Tush push!

Having chicks is a lot of work but its also a lot of fun. I am enjoying every day watching them grow and develop.

Small House homesteader, photographer and chicken keeper, Donna


Photo Diary – Chicks Photo Shoot – Day Four


Top bottom chicks day 4 blue dishes jpeg

May all your eggs be fresh and all your chickens healthy!

This Small House Homestead Photo Diary idea came from a similar post done by blogger and homesteader, Lori Leigh of LL Farms. Lori called her project, The Chick Photo Shoot.

I stumbled upon her work on-line and fell in love instantly with this idea. Lori has totally inspired me to try my hand at photographing my new chicks. Lori and I both homestead, love chickens, hand-paint furniture and play with our photography…a lot in common for two strangers!

You can enjoy her photography here: http://llfarmblog.blogspot.com/2015/04/babychickphotoshoot.html

Today is my chicks fourth day in this world and I decided since they had a few days to recover from their trip here, I could risk tiring them out a bit today. I wanted to capture this adorable “new chick” stage while I could.

Honestly, I had my doubts that I could pull this off but actually I am quite happy with the results. I shot less than a dozen images and two of my favorite ones are pictured on today’s post. I plan to take more photographs tomorrow, so stay tuned for those in a future post.

Black streaked alone USE

My four-day-old Rhode Island Red chicks first photo shoot!

The chicks are now eating from their chick feeder, stretching out their legs and flapping their wings. Their pin feathers are doubling in length overnight. They are developing so fast I swear I can see them growing right in front of my eyes!

I used some of my favorite blue and white china pieces as props and to “contain” them. These pieces are left over from a large collection of Phoenix Bird China and small collection of other blue and white pieces  I once owned but sold to build my art studio. However I still have enough less-than-perfect pieces left to use as serving dishes and to fill an antique curved front china cabinet in our living room.

Posing towards m USE

Just like a pro this chick turns her profile to the camera. Say cheese!

I used my light green, dry-brushed kitchen bookshelf because it has a back and sides and I thought this would be the safest setting for these unpredictable and often flighty creatures.

I emptied a shelf and pulled it away from the wall and out a bit to capture the side-lighting from our large dining room window. I hand-held my Cannon Rebel camera with my wide-angle lens and took some photographs. I am sure had I used my tripod and taken more time the pictures would have even been crisper. But the welfare of my funny, quirky and active chicks was foremost in my mind.

Mothers day grphic for Facebook jpeg

A planned Facebook graphic to post for all the mother’s out there.

The single chick just sat docile in the cup and posed but the two other ones (those with the darker stripes on their back) both jumped right out of their dishes. Photo shoot over for today!

They were out of their brooder less than 5 minutes more likely three minutes so please believe me when I say…no chicks were endangered in this photo shoot.

Here are a few more of my creations I made today using PicMonkey.com
Mothers Day graphic for janet 2015

For my own mother on Mother’s day (shhh…please don’t tell her!)

Small House Homesteader, photographer and chicken keeper, Donna

Goldie the Broody Hen

Our 9-month-old hen Goldie began to go broody this past week.

At first I thought she was just having trouble laying her egg and I was concerned with her clucking all the time and sitting on the nest for hours. I thought she might be egg bound. Then Gene figured out that she was acting broody and we realized what was really going on – our first broody hen!

This is making things quite difficult for us right now because of the demands of having new chicks, the porch’s membrane roof research and quoting project, spring garden demands (two flats of native lupines, 48 comfrey slips and 6 custom grated fruit trees are coming soon and we must have the ground ready) as well as a big joint birthday dinner at the homestead this Sunday (more about that later on this week.)

When it rains…it pours…

Gene named this hen Goldie from the iridescent golden color in her hackles, the ruff around her neck that is prized by fishermen who tie their own flies. Of the five Cochin/Phoenix mixed chicks we rescued last fall, Goldie is the only one that has this unique and rich golden coloration. The golden hue against the subtle and contrasting black and teal and green shimmers is simply beautiful.

Sitting pretty

 Goldie is second in from the right hand side.

Because my hens only started laying eggs about a month ago, it took me a couple of days to recognize this brooding for what it is, a deep hormonal desire to sit on her eggs and hatch them. When a hen goes broody, her pituitary gland releases prolactin, a hormone that stops her from laying. Her body and her hormones are telling her to brood but the catch is we have no rooster and that means no fertile eggs.

Hens who brood like this often do so endlessly without eating or drinking and often they starve themselves to death. So we knew we were going to have to break her of this desire for broodyness or she could be endangering her own life.

To Break a Broody Hen:

  1. Removing her from the nest box repeatedly, often multiple times a day which of course she does not like and she screeches loudly and goes right back on the nest at the first available opportunity.
  2. Finally closing off the chicken door which stops her access to the box (but also to the other hens as well, which obviously not a long-term solution.
  3. Separating her from the nest box in a more assertive way.

Story’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow also has a nice section on “Discouraging Broodiness.” I can recommend this too.

By Tuesday I decided to set up the dog kennel in the corner of the enclosed run for her. I put in leaves, food and water as well as a low wooden perch the same size as the one she is used to. This is a system that was originally set up for momma Clover when she began to peck her chicks after she “weaned” them and they would not leave her alone.

Crate on dest bath sandbox USE

The dog kennel in the sandbox dusting pen in the North coop corner.

I give Goldie several, supervised, outdoor free-ranging periods throughout the day so she can exercise, take in the sunshine and of course find and eat worms. During these times the chicken door is latched shut so she cannot get back to the nest.

I know this sounds cruel. but I must remember that a hen who wants to brood but has no fertilized eggs can actually die from starvation and thirst if she will not leave the nest.

And when one hen is hogging the “favorite” nesting box that every other hen wants to use – big trouble resides in the henhouse. This requires constant monitoring by me as well.

Goldie in pen

Poor Goldie is very unhappy in her temporary, protective kennel home.

Her latest “stunt” is to fly up to the top of the nesting box and try to get in through the ventilation window which is blocked with hardware cloth. She also flies up to the rafters and tries to get in through the roof which of course is impossible with the corrugated plastic roofing panels covering it. This look like a serious injury in the making.

Goldie closer USE

I am sorry Goldie girl, I feel really bad to have to put you through this agony but I have to protect your health above all….

I’ve read that a week is standard to break a broody hen from wanting to brood 24/7, sometimes two weeks, but we shall see just how stubborn Goldie is. She doesn’t yet realize just how stubborn this German chicken momma can be!

Small House homesteader and chicken momma, Donna


Adventures in Holistic Chick Raising-Adding Greens

DAY THREE – Highlight of the Day:

1) Today the chicks began to scratch and peck in their brooder. I found out they also like to sleep under the paper towels…whew…for a minute thought I lost one!

2) Sassy responds to the chicks peeps. They peep and she comes running to see what is the matter. That is the cutest mothering thing she has ever done!

3) Today Report: Poop. Sleep. Eat. Poop.

RIR Babies jpeg

If you’ve been following our blog you have read about the new chicks on our homestead. If you have ever had chicks you know just how they consume your time and energy. In fact, they have seemed to take over my life right now!

Chicken adventures day one and two can be seen here…https://smallhousebigskyhomestead.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=2046&action=edit

The RIR chicks spent a lot of time napping and resting today in their brooder box. Once or twice they all began to peep loudly so of course I drop everything go and check on them. Nothing looks off, but their water seems very warm to me so I change it out for the Susan Burek cooled garlic and honey water. They sip it and that seems to be just what they need. The peeping stopped  and peace again reigns in our household.

Based on herbalist Susan Burek’s recommendation I am feeding our new chicks chickweed, dandelion and a few other greens today as well as the fresh minced garlic. It’s only day three and the chicks are already pecking, beginning to scratch and eating greens. This quite blows me away!

I made a Burek tea of garlic and honey and put it in one of the chick waterers. The second waterer has a steeped green tea made from various organic greens like dandelion greens and chickweed.

Chicks Fresh Greens Tea:

Gather dandelion greens, chickweed, comfrey, and wheatgrass greens and place in a quart canning jar.

Boil water and pout over greens. Let cool. Pour into glass chick waterer.

My goal is to acclimate them to the taste of the garlic from day one and for them to get all the nutritional and medicinal benefits of the raw honey and garlic as well. I used raw honey from our local beekeeper and added some chopped organic steeped garlic I bought at the store. I put that in their waterer today. She does this for at least three weeks.

Chicks Raw Garlic and Raw Honey Tea

Smash and mince four cloves of fresh garlic

Fill a quart canning jar with water and boil the water

Add garlic and steep until the water is cooled

Pour into chick waterer

I will continue this tea for at least three weeks. The greens, garlic and raw honey are all immune system boosters.

Morning and night I clean out the brooder box, putting down fresh paper towels. I always add chopped fresh greens and chopped garlic.  I can’t say for sure if they ate any significant amount if either but they are very interested in it. They peck at everything in general and  worked the greens around. I did see a piece of green grass sticking out of a chicks moth when they came to drink. If nothing else they are getting used to the smell, texture and taste. I call this a good first step to eating holistic herbs and live greens.

They are already growing too. They stretch their necks up tall and practice lifting and flapping their wings. They run from one side of the brooder to the other. Their growth is evidenced in their pronounced pin feathers.

I used raw honey from our local beekeeper and added some chopped organic steeped garlic I bought at the store. I put that in their waterer today. She does this for at least three weeks.

I also tried handling the chicks throughout the day too. They are a little skittish right now, and peep and squirm, but I have no doubt that continued handling will help to tame them.

I did some more introductions of the chicks to Sassy too.  I sat on the floor of the laundry room with a chick in my hands. Sassy hears them cheap but can’t quite figure out where they are located.  She thinks they are in the base of the brooder stand and looks for them there. When I hold one in my hand, stroking it, she sits in front of me and watches what I am doing. A couple of times she tried to nose or lick the bird and I quietly said, “Gentle.” I am hoping she gets the idea of what I want. Once she mouthed it but moved back at my command.

Please know that I am not taking credit for these holistic chicken management techniques, this is a Susan Burke developed system. I totally trust her judgment and experience and I am just following her suggestions.

I am getting up twice a night to change out water and give me chick starter feed.

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

Adventures in Chicken Keeping: Chicks Have Arrived


Our four new Rhode Island Red chicks arrived from the hatchery yesterday. My friend Dawn, who is a huge chicken lover, graciously pick up four for me and she took home 102 new chicks for her farm!! I’ve come to realize I can handle about four at a time with our life here on the homestead as it currently is.

Chicks in box at Dawns

 Piles of chicks trying to stay warm in the chick box.

I had the brooder and red light ready and when the call came I turned on the light, upped the house heat and drove over to her farm just 10 minutes away from us to pick them up. Within 15 minutes they were in their new home.

Donna with Rhode Island reds day one 4-20-15

Here I am with one of my new baby chicks.

 My brooder is not unusual; a sterilized plastic bin, with paper towels on the bottom. A red chick light, new thermometer, chicken water, organic chick starter  and a bit of grit on the towels (so they can easily see the food) a bit of grit I put Nutradrench in the water so they got a bit of a head start on vitamins from day one.

Brooder set up

A repurposed microwave stand as base and a sterilized recycle bin as brooder.

They were pretty exhausted from their big day. I dipped their beaks into the waterer so they knew it was therefor them but they were more asleep than awake. I watched them until I was sure they were all drinking and eating and then check in on them every little while. Some were pooping a kind of clear liquid that I assume is the fluid in their body from the liquid matter in the egg shells from before they were born.

Sleepy Girls

Sleepy girls cat-nap on and off in their first hour in their new home.

We also introduced our Lab Sassy, to them while they were peeping heavily when they first got home. She was very interested in their peeping noises and smells. She was exploring all around the converter brooder and spent a lot of time trying to figure out where exactly these peeps were coming from. We let her explore with supervision and told her to “leave it” a few times. So far she has been real good and we did not have to put up the baby gate in the doorway as I thought we might.

I decided not to handle them too much today in order to let them rest, recover and acclimate to their new home. It was a big, big day for them. They were cat-napping and wobbling around and doing well when I went to bed.

It was blessedly uneventful night. I got up at 5 a.m. to check on them and give them fresh water.


As I mentioned above I was up at early morning day two. I wanted to make sure they did not run out of water or that it was dirty.  I changed their paper towel litter and gave them fresh food and water. I have two chick waters and I am swapping them out frequently since their water warms up quickly from the 90 degree heat in the brooder.

I went on-line this morning to research what herbs new chicks could have and  at what age. I found a great article written by Susan Burek,  herbalist and owner of Mile High Herb Farm,  called Raising Chicks Naturally.  That same article can be accessed through the Poultry Natural Living Facebook group and then by going to the “files.” I whole-heartily recommend this herb based chicken group for additional learning and this article for anyone with new chicks who wants to do things as holistically as possible.

We are all off to a real good start!

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

Photo Diary: Small House Weekend in Photographs

This weekend we made a big push on our spring garden work. While Gene sucked the dry oak leaves out of the garden beds with a leaf blower, I hand-pick leaves, twigs, acorns and anything else that does not belong out of our various bark chip mulched beds. My goal is to finish one large flower bed area done each day in addition to a load of wash, lots of cooking, my daily cleaning, taking care of the chickens and our Lab and keeping up with my computer work.Early morning light around circle bed USE

The early morning light makes lovely shadows on our sidewalk.

With our 2/12 acres of garden this clean-up is a big, big job that will take us several months to accomplish. It is just plain a lot of work for even the two of us.  But when it’s done and the various shrubs, grasses and perennials are in bloom. It is definitely a lot of oh-la-la.

HORZ early soring from turnaround USE

Our turn-around bed garden with a promise of many blooms to come.

Right now the daffodils are in full bloom so I have been taking an opportunity to photograph them nearly every day. Today we also put out the half circle flag on our front porch so I shot a few images of that as well. I had to choose my camera or my binoculars when we took Sassy for her swim and today I choose my binocular. That was a mistake because the light was perfect at the pond for photographs. Sigh.

I hope you enjoy a taste of spring on the homestead!

Front sidewalk more dramatic USE

The front entrance to our ranch-style bungalow.

Pole barn front USE

The practical pole barn under a canopy of White Oaks and White Pines.

Daffoldils stones USE

Lovely jonquils enliven the pole barn bed.

Brick raised beds after cleaning out bare USE

The raised brick beds next to our homes driveway. Empty of leaves. Waiting.

Freckles USE

Freckles in the open chicken run.

New screens 2014 USE

New screens for the family room windows. This use to be the garage.

Daffodils three rocks USE

Scented daffodils grace our garden right now looking like bursts of sunshine.

P.S. tomorrow I pick up our four new Rhode Island Red chicks…Expect some baby chick picture next week.

Small House Homestead, Donna

Our Girls Eat Live Green Barley Fodder at Last

I let the girls into the barley fodder “patch” today for the first time.

Grass under screen close USE

 The fodder patch before I removed the protective frame.

This fodder I planted is Amish grown and are untreated barley seeds that I bought at our regular feed mill. I tested just 1 pound of seeds to make sure that they would grow well here and that they would be received well and eaten by my Cochin/Phoenix mix chickens. This turned out to not be a problem!

Snowball in grass lookingup  USE

Snowball happily attacks the fresh barley grass fodder.

I planted the seeds right in their smallish open run where I had a nice size patch of sunshine. This worked perfectly.

The seeds have been growing since I planted them on 3-25-15 and the recent rains and warmer weather really brought them on. I let the seeds grow for about three weeks until they were about 4″ to 5 “ in height. The girls were trying to dust between the frame and the fence and I took pity of them.

Screenchikens dusting

This corner is a favorite outside dusting area. Looks like I crowded them!

I’ve read that grasses any longer than 4”to 5” are too long, can get caught in the chickens crop and cause sour crop so I decided to let the girls eat them while the grass was still reasonably short in length.

Screen one chicken up USE

Freckles look over the grass this morning just before I removed the frame.

They had been standing on the frame and pecking at the grass growing under it, taking off tiny pieces with their beaks.

Once I made my decision, I removed the frame and they took to the grass immediately. The best things about this feed is that it is untreated seeds so there are no chemicals involved and it is a live green food – the absolute best for chickens.

Snowball in nest box USE

Snowball in the nest box laying her egg.

The moral of his story is that…Happy, well-fed chickens lay healthy great tasting eggs!

Small House Homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna