An Almost Lazy Sunday

I have not been feeling like myself of late. I am feeling just plain exhausted most of the time. I have had various doctors’ appointment, blood work and as of now, nothing major has turned up. I do have the plantar fasciitis and am in a lot of pain from that and apparently that has worn me down. I’ve gotten my new custom shoe inserts and I start my physical therapy on that foot next week so hopefully things will get better and I will be more mobile again.

Maybe I just need a long vacation at an expensive spa with daily massages and mud baths…ya right!

Today was a lazy Sunday for us on the homestead. After morning chores, I planted a hops vine that I had potted up in the early spring. I made a small bed behind the blacksmith forge to replace the plants that died in the big flooding a few years back. I also transplanted a clump of epimedium (they like dry shade) and three or four clumps of hosta’s to fill in. It doesn’t look like much right now but in a few years it should be full and pretty.

Forge hops planting USE

Gene and I also took a drive down the lakeshore to run Sassy at Wau-kee-nau, bought some more locally grown Red Haven peaches and stopped in at my favorite garden center Hunt Tree Nursery. I needed a trellis and wanted a well-made fan-shaped cedar trellis and I knew I could find one there. This trellis will have a hops vine planted on it on the east side of the pole barn. This is a shady area so the vine will not get those pretty, white hops flowers but it will be leafy green and break up all of the wood fence.

Gene made spacers this afternoon and put the trellis up for me. I will be planting that vine in a week or two when it gets a bit cooler and then putting a transplanted St. John’s Wort’s shrub in front of it a well. This too replaces a shrub that died in the same flooding. Anything that was planted on low ground died and the plants that were planted a bit higher or in raised beds, made it…

Forge hops bed base USE

Then I treated Gene to homemade brownies using our own fresh eggs of course. These super-rich brownies with walnuts are his favorite sweet treat and I only make them once or twice a year now since we are trying to eat as healthy as possible. He tells a story that he fell in love with me over my brownies some 20 years ago, the ones I made from the package of unsweetened chocolate. When they say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach that is definitely true for Gene.

Fan trellis inbetween USE

Have a wonderful week!

Small House Big Sky Homesteader, Donna

Another Load of Bark Chips Going Down

Sassy in truck bed on chips close USE

My ever-present and patient helper, Sassy

Putting down bark chips is an ongoing project for me on the Small House homestead.

Truck sassy buckets close

If only she could help shovel!

Every Monday Gene and I drive the 20 miles into town for our restorative yoga class, lunch with our yoga friends and to buy our groceries. Since we hardly leave the homestead any other day this is as much of a social event as it is a physical one.

Cart truck and barn USE

Each time we go to town we also pick up a load of bark chips from a friend father’s blueberry field who has graciously blessed us with them for free. I typically spend one day the next week unloading, hauling and spreading those bark chips. Today Gene worked on putting up the gutters on the pole barn for the two new rainwater containment totes, this was my bark chip spreading day.

VERT arborvitea

Bark chip bed around the arborvitae.

This is a laborious project as I shovel them into a 5 gallon bucket, filled our cart Vermont and then haul them to where ever I am spreading them. Our beloved Labrador Sassy is my constant companion in this effort.

Chips edge and tree USE

Edging the wooded garden with bark chips.

Today I worked on edge of the garden bed behind Gene’s blacksmith forge. These chips will help to make things look tidier as well as build better soil. And with our sandy and very lean, oak Savannah forest dirt, better soil is something we can always use here.

Country Garden magazine front

One of my top five favorite magazines.

I entered our homestead garden in the 2015 Country Garden contest this year and although we have not been chosen, I decided to act as if we might be! So I have working hard all summer, weeding and spreading chips as mulch. If we are chosen, I have a head start and we are not, well things will be in great shape here anyway…I consider this a win/win no matter what happens.

In case you are not familiar with this great quarterly magazine, About Country Gardens is an excellent resource for individuals who want to plant their own garden. Each issue is filled with planting diagrams, design ideas and beautiful photos. This insightful magazine helps every reader discover their green thumb.

The call for country garden reads like this…..

Enter the Country Gardens Magazine Garden Awards

Do you have a great country-style garden? Enter the Country Gardens Garden Awards contest for a chance to see your garden published.

We want to see your photos and hear the story behind your inspirational garden or garden room.


Only amateur gardeners are eligible for awards; participants cannot earn their living from gardening, landscaping, or interior design. Gardens that have received other national gardening honors or awards, or have been featured in a national magazine, are ineligible. Please retain an original copy of your complete entry for your records; materials will not be returned. Images from entries may be shared online.


Submissions must be received by September 30, 2014. Award winners will be selected by Country Gardens editors to be featured in a future issue.


Send us your name, address, and telephone number, as well as color photographs or color printouts of digital photos of your garden, a rough landscape plan, and a brief description of your garden or garden room.


GARDEN AWARDS, Country Gardens, Code: WEB, 1716 Locust St., Des Moines, IA 50309-3023

Now I know better not to count my chickens until they hatch, however with our rural five acre spread and approximately 2 ½ acres in gardens, two hand-built chicken coops and runs, my hand papermaking studio and Gene’s vintage blacksmith shop I thought we might just be a viable candidate for the “Best County Garden” category.

Maybe they will even start a new category called Best Homestead Garden! My theory has always been… if you don’t ask, you don’t get! Wish us luck!

Small house homesteader and gardener, Donna

Preparing for Two More Rainwater Containment Totes

We had an inch of rain on Sunday in our Zone 5b garden. And just in time to capture that rain in our new water totes.

Gene digging and two totes to RHS USE

Our two totes sit on the east side of our pole barn taking advantage of the rain water that runs off of our metal pole barn roof.

We began the process of making the area ready for two more water totes this weekend. This means raking out oak leaves (they went onto the vegetable garden paths), old wood chunks (they went onto the fire) and soil had to be dug out and roots chopped up. As a permaculture homestead we try hard to have nothing go to waste or end up in the landfill.

Stumpand area dug out for wooden base

The leaves have been removed and the soil has been shoveled out.

You may remember reading about our totes system before. You can find that post here.…one-year-later/

Our two water totes have been filling up 2 and ¾ times the past two summers. We have been very happy with how they have performed and have decided to add two more totes to our collection. We have the perfect set-up here on the Small House Homestead; a large pole barn with a metal roof and ample spring and fall rains.

Meaasuring and sassy USE

Gene is measuring the length of the gutter needed. Sassy is his assistant.

Not only does this mean no water is wasted by simply pouring off the pole barn roof and going into the ground, we save electricity and wear and tear on the water pump every time we water using the water from these totes. We raised them several feet off the ground using a roadside rescue wooden beams that we found with a “free” sign on them. Using gravity feed and a simple rubber garden hose we get enough water to trickle out of the totes, go through the hose and onto our shrubs, trees or plants to soak them at the drip line. It’s a low energy use process;  I just set a kitchen timer and move the hose from time to time.

Sassy close USE

Our Lab Sassy enjoys a beef bone while keeping Gene company.

According to an article “12 Tips for a Water Wise Garden” in the Fall 2015 Issue of Herb Quarterly, shares that a 1,000 sq. ft. roof will yield a whopping 625 gallons of water from one inch of rain.

Menards check out station USE

I picked up cement blocks at Menard’s for the totes raised base.

Water is a critical element on your homestead and in your garden. Our set-up costs us less than $200.00 upfront. This is a easy way to save money on your electric bill and in some communities on your water bill as well. My son who lives in Portland, Oregon pays almost $60.00 a month on his water bill! Outrageous!

Low tech, ecological, conservation of water and easy to accomplish with some planning and forethought!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Tieing up Loose Ends/Dynamite Flatbread Recipe

Redone stone bed diaganol USEA closer look at the newly refurbished stone bed.

Stone bed overview

The pea gravel corner at the studio building soon to be guest house.

I also polyurethaned Gene’s blacksmith forge sign as it had faded back to almost bare cedar over the past few years. That sign now looks better than new!

Forge sign newly poly USE

Gene loves his newly revamped forge sign.

Bag of flour

A page from the Country Gardens magazine with flatbread pictured.

Today I made a chicken pasta salad with vegetables for lunch and experiment with a new recipe for Ranch Flatbreads. This recipe was outstanding!

I adore this bread. I can also imagine it as the start of a wrap for a salmon and green “sandwich.” And if I leave out the savory herbs and add sweet ones like mint instead this would make a wonderful dessert wrap for homemade jam or sweetened fresh fruit.

7 chunks on cutting board

Ranch Flatbread

(Originally from Country Gardens magazine, Fall 2015)


2 ½ cup of plain Greek yogurt

1 tsp salt

2 Tbsp. ground dehydrated chives

1 Tbsp. ground dehydrated onion

1 Tbsp. ground dehydrated garlic

½ tsp. ground dehydrated dill

2 ½ cups of self-rising flour/King Arthur’s Whole Wheat

Olive oil for cooking

  1. In a large bowl stir together yogurt, salt, chives, garlic and dill.
  2. Add flour, stirring with a wooden spoon until dough forms, adding more flour as needed.
  3. Transfer to a floured surface (I used a marble cutting board.)
  4. Knead dough by folding and gently pressing for 10-12 strokes or until dough is smooth.
  5. Divide dough into eight balls (about 3 inches wide.)
  6. Cover dough and let stand for 20 minutes.
  7. Using your hands pat the dough out into a flat pita bread shape.
  8. Heat a 12”cast iron skillet over medium heat, brushing on olive oil on the pan’s surface.
  9. Add a flat bread round and cook one to two minutes or until puffed and brown, turning once.
  10. It helps to press with a spatula after flipping this encourages it to puff with steam.
  11. Repeat with remaining rounds.
  12. Serve warm.

Bread pasta salad on plateI hope you like this flatbread recipe as much as I do!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Picking and Processing Peaches

One of the best things about living in SW Michigan is the wonderful fruit grown here. We have orchards filled with fruit and in every direction you look. Blueberries, cherries, sweet and tart, luscious peaches, apples of every variety – yum!

Peaches low in orchard USE FIRST

Sweet tasting peaches are the real reward of today’s peach picking event.

Since our peach trees are not producing yet we go to a local orchard and pick peaches nearly every year. Today we drove to and picked a bushel of Red Havens. Red Haven peaches were developed by Liberty Hyde Bailey just 17 miles from where we live in nearby South Haven, MI. They are the perfect peach for our weather, soil and USDA Zone.

Two trees in the orchard

Autumn clouds and a brisk wind made the picking perfect!

In less than 20 minutes we picked a bushel and headed home to process the first half of them that were ripe s and ready. Because pantry space is limited for us, I always freeze our peaches. Hubby and I tag team; I peel and cut and he adds the coconut sugar, lemon juice and seals the bags using our Food Saver.

Peaches in trees USE

Red Haven peaches are perfect!

Freezing Peaches:

4 cups peaches

1 Tablespoons lemon juice

½ to ¾ cup sugar

Ziplock bag or Food Saver after squeezing out excess air

Zip and freeze

Gene peches USE

Hubby picking in the orchard.

We are going to eat like kings this winter!

Small House homesteader, Donna





Repair Man to the Rescue

  Here my mantra of late…aging bodies, aging house…aging vehicles…and now aging appliances.

Gene and Dan moving stove

Hubby and Dan move the stove back into place.

My favorite large power burner on my 9-year-old Kenmore range hasn’t worked for over a year. The range hood fan quit last week. The sink disposal hasn’t worked in years either and while I don’t really need a disposal with our active compost system, I just don’t like the idea of things failing and not getting repaired.  

Dans appliance truck

Dan’s trusty steed!

Gene and his buddy Ron had replaced the igniter on the range over a year ago and still it did not work without being lit using a match every time. Apparently this job was more than an IT/phone man or an agricultural college graduate could handle. It was time to call in the reserves!

Dan's Appliance sign on truck USE

We’ve found it hard to find a reputable repair person in our area especially one who will take on small jobs. I asked my Facebook buddies who they would recommend. I was given the name of Dan at Dan’s Appliance Services in South Haven, MI., by a local realtor who is in the know for these kinds of things.

With meal making, canning and general three-meals-a-day cooking tasks I really need these two large burners working and a range hood fan that removes the toxic LP gas from my room.

I called and set up an appointment and Dan was prompt and spent about an hour and a half trouble-shooting and diagnosing the problems. A bit on the expensive side (aren’t they all!) I hired him as these repairs had to be done. It turned out we could replace the fan part needed for the Broan range hood and I ordered the fan on-line while Dan was here, looking over my shoulder to make sure I had the right part!

The stove needed two parts ordered which we did. And the disposal would need to be replaced and I said forget it because we compost 99% of our foodstuff and anyway so I haven’t used this unit in ten years or more.

Our encounter was very pleasant and if you own a home and keep it repaired you know how rare that can be! I was very happy with his professionalism, his promptness, his friendly attitude and his quality of work. I will definitely call him back again.

Honestly, I can happily recommend Dan’s Appliance Service from South Haven, Michigan. 269-639-2202. (Disclaimer: I received nothing in return for this recommendation, I am pleased and happy with Dan’s service.)

No matter how sustainable we try to be there are tasks we cannot handle. Homesteader wannabees take note.

Small House Homesteader, Donna








The Power of Native Plants – Photo Diary

Pineallple Welcome sign USE        Welcome to our flower garden!

It’s been a very dry summer at the Small House Homestead; our lawn is parched browns and yet today our homestead is being blessed by a life-giving rain. Our thirsty garden and property is soaking up this lovely rain water while our water containment totes are gathering additional water for our autumn transplanting. Thank you Rain Gods!

Pool shack back and burning bish USE FIRST

Grasses, hosta’s and a non-native burning bush behind the pool shack.

SW Michigan is often droughty in late summer and it is for this very reason that I plan mostly native plants. One of the best thing about native plants and grasses is that once established they don’t need much additional water to bloom and continue to look pretty all season long.

VERT Green birdhouse and climber USE

Black Eyed Susan’s add a splash of color and seeds in the bird bed.

I have been watering our newly planted fruit trees every other day using a trickle hose to keep the roots wet but our grass has pretty much gone brown and dormant. It’s pretty ugly now but I know that this is temporary and our lawn will green up nice again when the autumn rain arrives.

Black eyed susans in front of playhouse USE

 Black eyed Susan’s in front of the meadow playhouse.

The blooming flowers pretty much make up for the unpleasant brown grass as the meadow and the blooms of the native plants are absolutely outstanding right now. It’s hard to imaging the grass being so ugly and the garden flowers being so beautiful but that’s the power of natives!

Pool fencing long shot with black Eye Susans

Ornamental grasses and native obscure the required metal chain link fence around the pool.

meadow edge from pool corner USE

Native plants, ornamental grasses and burn out lawn at the meadow.

North Tree line and Black eyed Susans

Some color peeks out at the hardwood forest tree line.

I leave some of our native flowers and ornamental grasses standing in the garden leaving the seeds for the song bird to  eat. And others, like our many brown eyed Susan’s, I let them stand until they have gone to seed. Then once the seed heads are dried and the seeds ready to fall out I cut off the seeds heads and stems and toss them into our ditch and other sunny areas where I want more plants to grow. Our brown eyed Susan’s are just the perfect native plant for easy seed spreading this way.

HORZ crabapple tree bed early a.m.A bed under the crabapple tree is filled with hosta’s, day lilies and Brown Eyed Susan’s.

I hope you enjoy this August Photo Diary of native plants and I hope that you too can bloom where you are planted!

Small House homesteader, Donna

We Picked Tomatoes Today

It is a sad truth that our tomatoes did not do well on the homestead this year. The plants I bought from our local nursery just did not produce. The organic plants I purchased from my old CSA did well but are a variety of mini tomatoes; crab apple fruit size; great for eating fresh or in a tossed salad but not suitable for sauce.

Sills field and barn USE

The Sills Brothers Farm, South Haven, MI.

But luckily we live in what is known as the fruit belt of Michigan in the largest agricultural county in the state and we have many farms near us to choose among.

Bucket and pant diaganol USEOur 5-gallon bucket of tomatoes in the field.

So Gene and I drove to a local farm this morning and picked a bushel of tomatoes. It was only an hour from leaving home, to picking and returning home again. We then spent the morning together processing them and freezing them into 24 oz. cooking bag size in our Food Saver. We popped them into the freezer.

Veg in barn USE

Yes, I could have bought them from the grocery store but I wanted to avoid the salt in canned tomatoes as well as the BPA’s found in many aluminum cans. I also take an opportunity to support a local farmer or grower when I can.

Barn close blue sky use

Isn’t this a great old barn?

These tomatoes will help to make many hardy meals this winter!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Planting Green Fodders for the Small House Chickens

Chicken run with wire completed USEThe weather man says we are going to have a rainy week in SW Michigan this week.

I took advantage of the coming rain to plant our two barley seeds patches for the chickens. I bought a 50 lb. bag of untreated barley seeds at the Amish feed store last fall and had really good luck with it. Barley seed is often used as a cover crop as it germinates very quickly and holds the soil in place. I use it as green fodder for the hens for when the grass in the run starts to get scarce.

VERT Large frome good sunlight USE

I consider green fodder live greens and critical to my chickens well-being and very important for their nutritional needs.

I dug up the sunflowers that has self-seeded in the run and put them down on the ground for the chickens. I turned up the soil with a shovel in the open chicken run, added a couple of buckets of well composted horse manure soil. I seeded the barley heavily and the moment the chickens saw the seeds hit the ground the Rhodies jumped on the seeds like they were manna from heaven. And at four months they had never seen a seed like those before.

All Rhodies on frame USE

The Rhodies are following the leader and walking along the side of the frame.

I definitely should have waited until they were in the coop for the night before I seeded! I put the cattle panel wood frame over the seeds adding more composted soil on top and put the chicken to bed for the night. I later added cut boards as deterrents to keep them from eating all the raw seeds.

By morning we had a nice rain which moistened the ground and will help the seeds to germinate. Last fall they germinated in just a few days so I expect these will do the same. Pretty soon green barley grass will pop up through the cattle panel and I will take the frame off and store is behind the pole barn and let the girls eat to their hearts content!

Frame large and run corner

The Rhodies fodder patch on day one.

The following day I planted the second and smaller patch in the other open run. Same process but on a smaller scale. This time after I turned up the soil, the hens all came to investigate and helped the process by further turning up the soil for me as they looked for bugs.

I just love it when the chickens help to make my job easier!

Small House Homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

Time to Ask for Help

I consider myself a very independent person. I’ve always work hard and carried my load and more. I have worked long days even when sick with endometriosis many years ago when my children were small. I’m a mom and this is what mom’s do. But I honestly never thought this day would come…a day when I would admit to myself and to Gene that I can’t do this all alone anymore. Or that I would be paying for help around the house and homestead.

I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and frustrated at falling behind couple with the pain of my plantar fasciitis pain. around. Today I hired a local girl to come and help me. I posted on Craig’s list and found a worker who lives just two miles from me. Grateful!


In spite of feeling embarrassed about this, it is actually a huge relief. I had anticipated that Gene would be helping me more and that between us we would be able to keep it all up but he has been busy building the chicken coop and run. And his feet are a mess too even worse than mine.

This 25-year-old angel came today and helped me for 3 ½ hours and it was a huge blessing. While Roxanne vacuumed the outside of our limestone house roof to garden beds I vacuumed the inside windows, sills, and screens, washed our bed quilt, sheets and blanket and hung them out of the clothes line to dry. I also took care of our chickens, helped Gene hold panels on the chicken coop, trickled watered the fruit trees and made a number of telephone appointments – all on less than four hours of sleep last night.

Roxanne lives just two miles from us, is a real hard worker and has endless energy and will come back on Thursday for another round. I was so exhausted doing my part of the work I don’t think I could have gone another hour and she was the one working outside in the heat while I was mostly inside in the cooler house.

I’m not used to asking for help. I don’t like admitting I can’t do it all myself, at least not this week. It’s just plain embarrassing. But I admit it feels so good to have made some real progress on my “to do” list today.

I like a clean and tidy home and this just may be the best money I ever spent.

Small House homesteader, Donna

P.S. I’VE been searching for other senior homesteaders for some time now. I’d like to form a group where seniors like Gene and I could benefits from as well as share. If you are a senior homesteaders and I like this idea…let’s talk!