Rainy Weekend and Spring Garden Photographs

It’s been a rainy weekend here on the homestead. But that’s okay with me as I know that our newly planted fruit trees, transplanted perennials and vegetable garden seeds all need this life-giving water to thrive. We had 3.1″ of rain in the last two days which will also helps our two water containment totes to fill back up as well.

Lupines stones nice USE

Native lupines in my white pine bed at the Small House pole barn driveway.

What do you do on a rainy weekend? We clean house!

Pines lupines fnce bed USE

This pine bed filled with lupines and catmint greets our friends and family.

Since taking photographs of cleaning house will be boring I will share spring garden photographs I have taken during the last couple of weeks.

Sunflower flag in pines USE

A colorful sunflower flag helps to brighten a gray sky week here.

This time of year we spend almost every waking minute working out-of-doors or with our animals so the house, unfortunately, often gets left behind. And recently with so much of my time and energy going towards the replacement of the porch roof and the insurance claim for the same room, cleaning time has been a precious commodity of late.

Pool shack May 2015 USE

The hostas are up at the pool shack – the ornamental grasses are starting to.

So I talk advantage of these days to do a thorough cleaning. And boy does this house need it right now!

OFFSET Daylilys oak bed USE

Scented day lilies and epimedium under a White Oak tree.

Today Gene will clean the bathrooms and kitchen and vacuum and mop the floors. I’ll feed the animals, change out the chicks litter and vacuum the bedroom carpets and our many area rugs and the fine tuning details he is likely to forget.  We will both also take the recycling to the compost station today and run the dog. Then I’ll be cooking up a storm.

VERT yellow iris forge trees USE

Light yellow iris’ in a bed under another White Oak tree.

Together we will get this job done, as partners as we always do everything. I am thankful for having Gene as my partner.

Japanese iris in our meadow.Japanese iris USE

Japanese iris in our meadow.

Karens lavender Japenes iris USE

This lavender iris is a pass-along plant from a gardening friend.

It always feels SO good to me to be in a very clean house.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Greenhouse Hoops Repurposed as Chicken Run Frame

Our Cochins hens love to fly!

Tie wrapping USE

The open chicken run is now covered with deer netting to keep the girls in.

When I look out the kitchen or dining room window to check on our hens, inevitably I find them out of their pen scratching in the mulch around our oak trees or heading across the yard to heaven knows where. These girls are always on the move.

Not only do I worry about stray dogs as day-time predator (or even our own Lab Sassy forgetting her lessons.) An avid gardener, I have nicely mulched garden beds that need protecting too. So I really want to keep the girls in their pen areas.

Sassy looking

Sassy is being trained to “leave it.”

Our chickens have a series of three “pastures” each with a mix of leaves, grass and weeds to wander around in of their own free will so they really are not hurting for places to scratch and peck. They have shade and sun and a covered coop so no matter the weather they can be contained and protected.

But they also have a kind of wanderlust and like to fly over our 4 ft. tall chicken wire fence for evidently what they think are “greener pastures!”

Hoop run step 2 from Noth view

Stage two of the covered chicken run project. Our Cochins are in the lower right hand corner of this photo.

After months of rounding up and collecting birds five, seven or nine times a day I began to think about covering the open run permanently or clipping their wings. I made the decision early on to not clip their wings because I do want them to be able to fly away in case a predator should come to dinner.

Instead I scoured the Internet and then Pinterest for low-cost covered coop and run ideas until I found one that incorporated metal greenhouse hoops as a frame covered with netting. Bingo!

It turns out that we already have 7 metal greenhouse hoops stacked behind our pole barn that we purchased from a garden club a few years ago for just a $20.00 donation. At that time I had hoped we might build a small hoop-house here. But there was always so many projects waiting that this greenhouse just never got built.

There was my answer…using the greenhouse hoops as a frame for a covered chicken run.

Pool shack side

An east facing shows the block with the hoops inserted into the holes.

This was really simple to achieve. We bought 10 cement blocks, each one weighing 36 lbs., at just about $1.00 each and inserted the hoops into them. We plan to add pea gravel to help to hold the hoops in the block but they already seems to be quite sturdy to me.

Initially we thought we would use bird netting as the cover but then we had a tip on a shade cloth from a local garden center.  Unfortunately that shade cloth was too large for our hoops so it was back to plan A; Using deer netting  secured to the hoops using plastic tie wraps.

Hoop Dimensions:

Our hoops are 8 ft. in length from pole end to pole end.

Our Covered Run Is:

  1. 18 ft. length
  2. 14 ft. 2” width
  3. Hoops are 86” tall

Deer Netting:

100 ft. long.

Today Gene used a $20.00 bag of deer netting and cut and fit the netting around the hoops using tie wraps to connect the netting to the metal hoops. Covering the three gates was a bit trickier to figure out but eventually he just cut panels and weighted them with a repurposed wooden and metal poles that I will lift and open when I go in and out of the gate.

Less than one days work and only $50.00 in cost. What a happy day this is!

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna


New Membrane Roof – It Had to be Done

“The trick is to be grateful when you mood is high, and graceful when it is low.”  Richard Carlson

I’m having a bad attitude day and quite frankly I need to shake it off. I am hoping that writing about it might release my frustration and I can move on.

Our new membrane roof went on the three season porch today. Think of a large flat piece of Firestone rubber covering an angled metal porch roof and you kind of have the idea. First comes a layer of wood, then foam insulation and then the flat layer of rubber that is attached to the wood using a kind of rubber cement.  Strips of metal edging holds every on.

Membrane on guys on roof USE

A work on progress.

Usually these membranes go onto commercial buildings or schools but occasionally a pitch roof like ours needs one.  The pitch of our roof is such that it cannot be shingled with regular roofing shingles.

I should be happy, but I admit it that this is a grin and bear it situation for me after just putting on a shingle roof, ridge vent and flashing onto our 35 ft. X 80 ft. ranch-style home last September. That was “supposed” to take care of the leak but it did not.

Having  yet another major expense while putting even more money into our old home does not make me a happy camper today. Houses are known money pits and this house, however small, has been a big one.

Corner of membrane close USE

A close up photograph of the membrane. I climbed up the ladder to take this one.

It’s been a 5-year period of multiple home maintenance expenses on a retirees small budget and it is not easy to manage. Part of my frustration is the time and energy it takes to go through the  research and bids process and the project management stage as well, which for a variety of reasons, all falls onto me.

Putting on shingles USE

Shingles are being reattached at the point where the two roofs meet.

The other frustration is that I feel like all we have done in this home is pay out large amounts of cash to maintain an aging home with needs that just never seem to end. Our home is comfortable and well maintained but sometime it just feels like we pouring money into a never-ending money pit.

At our age we are past the DYI stage as Gene is now 70 years old and simply cannot do many of these projects anymore.  Putting on a membrane roof takes special skills and special equipment and even if he had the skills, which he does not, it just isn’t safe to have him up on the roof for hours at a time.

White roof before

The original roof was white and metal.

Battle of the Ice Dam:      

Because we live in SW Michigan in what is known as the snow belt deep; snow and ice damns on our roof has been a battle we have fought the entire time we have lived here. Roofers have told us it’s either not enough insulation or not enough ventilation and we have struggled for 15 years to get it right.

2011: We blew in 6 more inches of attic insulation to try equalize the temperatures in the attic to the temperature outside and stop the thick winter ice dams on the roof. This was a DYI project but still costs around $500.00

2012: Not rood related but definitely house related… After four springs of serious high ground water flooding from 2009-2012, we sunk another $10,000 into our share of the Allegan County drain extension in order to save our home.

2013: Added ventilation panels all around our homes overhang, again for the roof’s ice dam issue. A DYI so materials and rentals cost around $250.00.

2014: We re-shingled our roof and add a ridge vent to increase ventilation. Another in the long series of construction projects to eliminate the ice dam on the roof. Another $7,000 put into our home.

Imagine my feelings now when I found out last winter that our three season’s porch roof had failed and the leaking causing water to run inside the metal roof itself and damaged our porches custom river rock flooring. This meant that we now need a waterproof membrane roof for the porch that was going to cost another almost $5,000. Sigh.

I do love my porch and adore siting out there reading, eating a meal, bird watching and listening to NPR. And I am grateful that we found Hoekstras Roofing Company out of Kalamazoo, But I also have been feeling at the end of my rope with the never-ending demands of this house.

Gluing the edge of the rim

Calking the seam’s an edging to finish the project.

It’s bad enough to make ends meet on a fixed income but to encounter expensive projects year after year it’s almost too much to deal with. And we have put so much money and effort into this place really too late to abandon it now.

I have been saving for many years for bookcases type cupboards in my living room and the cash to update my old, outdated bathroom. All of those plans and dreams will now be scrapped. In order to pay for this latest roof, we took those project savings and additional money out of Gene’s IRA to come up with the amount needed.

I am trying hard to stay positive and focus on the fact that the leaking will be over and that the membrane roof will likely outlast us with its 20 to 30 year life expectancy and I should never have to put another roof on a home I own (I’ve done three of them.)  While our homes values has not gone up much in consideration to the amount of updates and repairs we have done on it. Yes, we have enjoyed the updates and they have helped us to be more comfortable and happy here. I am also hopeful that this second roof will not only add to the coziness of our home but also to its resale value.

I know I need to focus on the fact that even with great sacrifice we could make this “need” happen, when so many cannot. Remember, attitude adjustment time Donna. Just-do-it.

Small House homesteader, Donna

My Favorite Carrot – Merida Hybrid

I love this carrot!

Carrots close use

It is Merida Hybrid an overwintering type I bought from Territorial Seed Company in 2014 http://www.territorialseed.com. It is certified organic too (by Stellar Certification Services.)

The most favorite thing about them is that they overwinter really well here in SW Michigan lasting through our intense cold months and deep, deep snow falls. I’ve harvested two batches so far this season; one earlier this spring and a second picking today. I planted our first garden seeds of 2015 today and the carrots needed to come out of the soil to make room for the new.

The package says “240 days, This Nantes type with great bolt resistance produces sweet, bright orange carrots 1 to 1 ½ “ in diameter. Well suited for spring, summer and fall plantings.” I agree.This sampler packet was just $3.95 from Territorial Seeds Company, Cottage Grove, Oregon 514-942-9547.

1 gram samplers work out really well for us and this one packet was enough to feed the two of us through the summer and fall and early into 2015.

There is nothing like harvesting fresh grown carrots from my garden in May and June before the real gardening season even begins!

The carrots pictures in this photograph above over-wintered in our garden and were harvested today 5/28/5. I cooked cleaned, sliced them up for lunch and they were as sweet as ever.

Small House Homesteader, Donna


Heirloom Fruit Trees Planted on the Homestead

We replanted the fruit trees today in our home orchard.We planted three apples, two pears and a peach tree.

These trees replace those that died of old age and those that we lost in the high ground water flooding during the time period of 2009-2012. This extended time of flooding was  very rough time for us on our homestead. Living through the flooding and the stress that comes from the uncertainty of losing one’s home and has given me a much greater sense of how farmers and growers who live off the land must feel during bud killing frosts, drought, flooding, wildfires and so on.

Gene from front tree going in hole

Gene removing a fruit trees from its container.

We want to grow organic fruit without a lot of chemical sprays so we started this journey by reading The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips. Published by Chelsea green, The Holistic Orchard is a seminal work that is being compared with Sir Albert Howard and J.L. Rodale’s classic books on soil and organic gardening.

HORS triangle of dirt and trees waiting

 One of two large growing beds filled with manure, straw and our homemade compost.

After deciding that I wanted to grow heirloom trees  I found a source of heritage fruit trees at Southmeadow Fruit Gardens, Baroda, MI.,  which is located about an hour from our home. I found I was over whelmed by the numerous choices and I just didn’t know which one would do best in our area. After several e-mail conversations with the owner of the business  I placed an order for “Pete’s Picks.”

Pete choose the following trees species for us as the best choice for our soil, light and wind conditions;

1) Tohuky (fugi)
2) Court Pen Do Plat
3) Perry Russet


Cart horizontal

Our garden cart was used to hold our mix of manure, compost and waste straw.

I also bought two Barlette pears and one Red Haven Peach from Jonker’s Garden Center, Holland, MI, a very respected nursery. I figure that I am hedging my bets by buying and planting three heritage species and two others known to do well in this geographic area.

Jobes Fruit Tree Spikes

We added Jobes fruit tree fertilizer; two spikes per tree.


  1. Semi-dwarfs (10-15 ft. in height)
  2. Self-pollinating trees
  3. Heritage tree varities
  4. Varities that require the least amount of chemicals possible


We have flat land, lean and sandy soil and frequent droughts here on our SW Michigan homestead. We are working with a site that is sunny with some shade created by our home and several nearby large White Oak trees. We are located 17 miles inland from Lake Michigan and the heavy winds off the big lake can sometime blow down the roadway in front of our home so our site can be very windy at times.

The planting bed location was chosen both for the amount of sun the site provided but also to create a bit more of a buffer from the class AA roadway that runs in front of our home.

Following the principles outlined in the Holistic Garden we planted our trees in a large triangle combining a Permaculture fruit guild theory with underplantings of comfrey as a deep-rooted nitrogen fixer.  Later on we will add native lupines, chives, daffodils and yarrow.

We are both very tired today….but it is the satisfied kind of tired from a job well done. I know only Gene is photographed in these pictures, but I work side by side with him all the way. We are a team.

The next step will be to pick up a truck load of bark chips to use as a mulch on both beds.

In about three years we will picking our own fruit right from our own trees. ALL organic!

Small House Homesteader and gardener, Donna

Raging Chicken Hormones on the Homestead

The chicken hormones have been raging this week at the Small House chicken coop as one Cochin hen after another has gone broody.

Fencing from side

We added another small pasture area for the chickens to use.

We have no rooster, by choice, but the hens hormones tell the chickens its time to lay, brood and hatch out a baby anyway. In our case, no fertilized eggs has meant separation of chickens, chickens pecking chickens, full-time clucking and fights over the nest boxes and mean girls. Sigh.

Chicehn divider post stage

One large garden area now becomes two areas.

Poor Snowball, the lowest chicken in the pecking order has taken more than her fair share of pecks from the mean girls. We have two nest boxes plenty enough for our four hens. But they all want the same box AND they want peace, quiet and alone time when they lay…no company allowed!

Gene putting in posts

Gene is putting in the metal “T” posts.

So all together between the raging hormones and a lack of chicken tolerance, the mean girls have been quite nasty this month. This meanness and broodiness translates to timeout in the dog kennel for poor “less then all there in the mind department,” Snowball.

Roll of fencing USE

Chicken wire is fast becoming the material of choice around the Small House.

Why is it in the chicken world that the most delicate chickens has to have “time out” in the dog kennel for the other chickens bad deeds? My conclusion is when it comes to mean girls there is nothing that resembles fairness in chicken-ville.

Fencing straight on

The chicken barrier project is complete. Nothing fancy just a barrier.

After three weeks of time-out, separation and almost full-time supervision by humans we decided the time had come to add another chicken barrier to create a separate chicken space.

So using green metal “T” stakes and a another new roll of chicken wire, Gene strung the wire across the back-end of the garden as a temporary “safe place.” This gives us one more pasture to put a chicken where they are protected.  And my raised garden beds do not get trashed either.

Never a dull moment in chicken-ville!

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

Home to My Quiet Little House In the Woods

Donna at Silver falls, Oregon

My tourist trip to visit Lower South Silver Falls, Silver Falls State Park, Portland, Oregon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_Falls_State_Park

I’m just back from an amazing two weeks visit with my adult son, Christopher, and an old yoga friend, Christine B. Since I was always traveling Oregon to see my oldest boy and I decided to take a side-trip since I was just five hours from this friend. I carved out a few days to visit her on a mule ranch in Burns, Oregon and take in the sights in her area.


 My friend and her beau.

DJ and Captain

 I visited a horse ranch and shared equine Reiki with Captain.

For a homesteader like me who works the land from morning-to-night  on a five-acre parcel with no close neighbors, the contrast of urban to rural was a profound one.

Donna at viewer

A day trip to Mt. St. Helen’s in Washington was a highlight for me.

In Portland I was immersed in a highly dense urban neighborhood with tightly packed, single family homes, and most everything you might need within walking distance.

Chris's house straight on USE

 My son’s Craftsman home in the Arbor Lodge neighborhood.

Want a coffee shop? It’s only two blocks away. Need an organic grocery store; it’s just a block further. A local library? Go another block east. And even though the neighborhoods are built very dense, I was surprised to realize in spite of this density my son’s home and neighborhood was quieter than my life on the homestead.

Ship wreck light sunset

Old shipwreck on Cannon Beach

I walked everywhere; to the corner for street tacos, three blocks to the organic store, to the coffee shop. I also learned to manage public transportation and rode it to and from downtown Portland and for a time I lived the fast-paced urban lifestyle.

Round Barn best

 Hand-built and restored, round barn near Burns, Oregon

At home I spend my days tending animals, managing a home and garden and spend hours working on preparing high-quality nutritionally dense foods. In Portland yards are tiny, everyone eats out once or twice a day because there is an amazing variety of food that can be eaten and getting it fast, is the name of the game. And the weekends…just how many activities can one pack in two days?

Long barn fromback

Long barn near Burns, Oregon

And the pace, OMG! Here my single and childless son and his friends pack in two or three activities each day where I might leave the house for yoga, lunch out and groceries just one day a week. Friends stop by often where as I go weeks in-between anyone coming over. That is definitely one of the main contrasts I saw between the urban vs. rural life In Portland after work hours are for going places. In my rural life, afternoons and evenings are for resting and observing nature.

I had a great time there and loved seeing my son’s new home and lifestyle and meeting his friends but I was definitely ready to go back to my quiet little home in the woods. I missed my husband, my chickens, our dog and the slower more-suited-to-me pace of rural life on the homestead.

Chris and Donna

My son and I in my first ever selfie at Mt. St. Helens, on the 35th anniversary of its eruption.

Apple trees await planting, comfrey slips and lupines as well. I missed watching the daily unfolding of spring arriving; the birds starting to nest and the flowering plants opening and flowering on our property.  On vacation in Portland, one drives into the wilderness, visits museums and watches movies to view nature. In my life, I observe and live nature in person, up front and close. I’ve been reminded how much of a gift it is to observe nature in person face to face.

This is the life for me.

Small House Big Sky Donna

Photo Diary: Enjoying the Simple Life Today


Playing with the chicksMy almost two-week old Rhode Island Red chicks enjoying the out-of-doors.

We spent our day just enjoying the simple life today…playing with the chicks in the outside pen…

Playing in the grass USE


It's a bird..its a plane...oh no its sassy! Gene is smiling

Taking Sassy swimming at the SW Michigan Land Conservancy land, Wau-kee-nau…

Row of yellow waukeena

Enjoying the lovely warm and sunny day as well as the bright yellow and cheerful forsythia in full bloom…

Put my roadside rescue treasures up on the pool shack…


Photographing my violets in the garden path and picking out my flowers for our summer pots…

Patch of violets USE

Who can ask for more than a home centered life, beautiful sunny weather and spending it together.

Small House Big Sky Homesteader, Donna

New Outdoor Chickenwire Playpen

Checking out the garden USE

It’s a big new world for a chicken that has only known an indoor brooder.

My chickie babies and I took a little sun bath in the lovely 70+ degree sunshine today. We all sat in the newly built chicken wire and stake enclosure Gene made for us within our vegetable garden. This was their first outdoor adventure so we kept it short, we were outside maybe 15-20 minutes max.

Marching RIR USE

Hey you guys, come on out its pretty out here.

Gene built a this temporary “playpen” for us today for this very purpose. I carried the chicks out in a cardboard box and turned it on its side so they had a place to be with plenty of shade and no breeze and where they felt safe and secure.

Chicken wire playpen

The new, temporary and movable chicken wire playpen.

They tentatively moved in and out of the box, testing the feeling of grass on their feet and the taste of fresh grass then they scurried back inside. They are just beginning to get use to the feel of the sunshine and the out-of-doors. They had their organic growers feed sprinkled on the floor of their box and fresh water in a chicken waterer nearby.

Food shelter water and mom what more could a chick need

Food, sunshine, water and mom nearby….what more could you ask for?

They acted like they had a great time. As soon as they started to act the least bit tired I took them back into their brooder and fed them their fermented grower feed, and dandelion greens tea w/ garlic which they love. They were back up on their little mountain of grass and dirt in a few minutes playing king of the mountain!

This was a positive experience I think!

Small House Chicken Keeper, Donna