Starting to Build the Chicken Run Storm Windows

The chill of fall is in the air on the homestead and we had a welcome rain blow into our area today. The weather is cooling off quickly here and it’s nearing time to bust out the hot cider, warm throws and the Eden Pure space heater.

VERT a bt more of the run showing

The plastic storms will end up on the inside of the wire.

I am always looking for the best winter strategies for helping our chickens deal with the Michigan cold weather; deep snow and winds. The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a harsh winter this year and I want to be ready.

Gene has begun building the plastic storms for the new chicken coop and run. He is using 4 ft. long lathe wood strips he buys at Menard’s and cuts 8 mill heavy-duty plastic to fit and screws them both into the wood of the run to make a kind of storm window. This will provide a wind break barrier for the chickens and turn the run area into a mini sun room for the winter.

Because we live 17 miles inland from Lake Michigan we can get some pretty wild windstorms here in the winter with temperatures up to 20 degrees below. In my experience chickens can manage pretty well in the cold as long as they have enough high quality protein to help them build heat internally but they do not prosper in direct drafts.

Chickens are birds not mammals, so they do not require heat in the winter. Their bodies interpret the cold much differently than we do. Both Rhode Island Reds and Cochin Bantams are considered cold hardy breeds with small combs and they will do just fine with bit of planning and my help.

Cochin run not yet chicken wire but nice

The enclosed Rhodie run with screening on but not storm windows.

So our enclosed run system with plastic storm windows is our answer to combating drafts. Having this space is also a way to get them out of the coop 24/7 and to provide them with some wintertime exercise as well.

Last winter I saw our lightweight Cochin Bantams reacting negatively to the strong winds and it was obvious to me that they are not fond of the wind blowing them around.

Plastic storm showing

The plastic storms are going up  one panel at a time.

Last winter they liked hanging out in the enclosed “playpen” run and this year we plan to re-create the same system again. We designed both coops so that they open out into the shared enclosed run through chicken doors. This way the chickens can choose to stay in the coop or go out into their open or their enclosed run and move around depending on the severity weather and their desires.

Inside shared run showing both coops and ladders

You can see that both chicken doors from each coop opens up into the run area.

We are “hoping” that the two flocks will successfully tolerate each other during our six month-long winter. The Cochins and the RIR have been integrated now just over five months and are for the most part tolerating each other. How they act when both flocks are sharing the same covered run for months at a time and eating their food and water from the same physical area remains to be seen.

Yes, we have spoiled but very happy chickens!

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

Picking Apples Such a Simple Country Pleasure

Gene and I picked organic apples at Evergreen Land Farm and Creamery in Fennville last weekend. It was an overcast day but a perfect one for being in the orchard among the brilliant colored fruit.

Gene picking arm up

Gene is picking his favorite apple variety, Empire

Evergreen Lane Farm focus’ on making artisanal cheese and growing organic apples.

DJ with goat good

I made a new goat friend!

The story of the farm is an interesting one. They say that their cheese making began when a single runaway goat burst into their lives and their living room and has blossomed into a seven-year journey, and 100 goats later, a thriving business of cheese-making. All of their cheeses are available at their on-farm tasting room and at a number of local retailers and restaurants.

Purple Creamery

The on-farm creamery store.

We have enjoyed this simple country pleasure of apple picking there for many years. We will make applesauce, freeze apple chunks and many delicious apple crisps in the days to come.

Tom on tractor USE

Owner Tom on his New Holland tractor.

Evergreen lane collage 3 jpeg 9 2015 Evergreen Lane 7 collage jpeg

Small House homesteader, Donna


Elsa’s First Egg – A Red Letter Day!

It’s always a red-letter day when your chicken lays her fist egg. It doesn’t matter how many flocks you have had in the past but the flocks first egg is always a treasure – a golden egg so to speak. Especially when you have waited five months (five month and one day) for it to happen.

RIR are known for being great egg layers and each bird lays up to 300 lovely, large brown eggs per year. That and their easy-going, hardy natures are the reason I chose them this time around.

Egg alone in a bowl USE

Elsa’s first egg. Big, brown, beautiful and organic!

Elsa is the most mature of our four Rhode Island Red chickens. Elsa is a beautiful Rhodie with a deeply burnished dark neck ruff and black tail feathers. She is the one whose comb got red first, who squatted in submission first and now she is the first of the flock to lay her egg. I also think she is the head chicken of that small Rhode Island Red flock.

RIR circling the food dish

Yesterday she started a kind of “I’m uncomfortable” squawking and I suspected her egg was coming soon. Coincidentally the nest boxes were all full of empty jugs and jars to make it uncomfortable for the three Cochin broodies who has been brooding in the next box for almost 6 weeks. It was time for them to rejoin the flock and while I didn’t want to punish them for their own natural hormones, I wanted to make their time in the box uncomfortable. So I piled on the old Kiefer jugs, lemonade jars and milk cartons I had saved for this purpose.

This morning while I was opening and cleaning out the coop Elsa looked into the nest box (which was full) and started to squawk again loudly so I quickly removed the jugs. Within two hours she had laid. Her egg song was joyous and loud! Good girl Elsa!

And yes she is named Elsa after the character in Frozen. Our North Carolina granddaughter named her that.

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna


Permaculture Mixer September, 2015

It was a very interesting and rewarding day yesterday at the Permaculture Mixer in Kalamazoo, MI. The daylong event that took place on Saturday, September 26th and was an opportunity to hear presenters and to meet others from the Michigan Permaculture Community.

Perma Activities collage 4 9 2015 jpeg

The event was held at the historic 160 year old Gibbs House on Western Michigan Universities campus. This site serves as a living laboratory where students are creating a developing permaculture landscape, a food forest, vegetable and herbs gardens and using composting and verimiculture to make the garden soil more productive. This large demonstration garden complete with two 30 X 80 ft. hoop houses shows others what can be done on an urban plot and how to do it sustainably.

many walking dwon rows

Tours of the garden and hoop house were popular.

There were sites tours, demonstrations of low energy use equipment, information booths, book sales and plenty of opportunity to mingle with and talk to other attendees of “like mind.” There were also a potluck and panel discussions of individuals who are farming, gardening and homesteading and personally making the permaculture system work for them.

Flowers close

Layers of plants are part of a permaculture system.

The day began with keynote speaker, Peter Bane, author, teacher and permaculture activist who presented a short history of how permaculture came about and a positive and hopeful path for how using permaculture systems will be part of the global answer to a more sustainable future for us all. Bane is known for his book; Permaculture Handbook, Garden Farming for Town and Country ( and as the long-time publisher of Permaculture Activist Magazine. Bane also offered a Sunday workshop on designing resilient homesteads as well.

Gibbs House collage 4 jpeg

In addition there were several other speakers who shared their journey and their stories about how they came to permaculture and how permaculture is working for them.

Other speaker so so

Presentations are an integral part of the diversity of permaculture options.

It was an rewarding opportunity and one I thoroughly enjoyed. If you have a permaculture community near you, I really encourage you to join and explore new ideas and make some of them your own.

Group tur through food forest

Verticl porch posts

Small House homesteader, Donna

Wood Prairie Farm Organic Potatoes Review

I dug up our potato crop this morning. The stems had died down several weeks ago so I knew they were ready. I hate to say it but I was very disappointed with the less than expected productivity of these expensive seeds potatoes I bought from Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater, Maine.

Todays haul

I purchased what they call the “Experimenters Special” for $19.99. This is a kind of sampler box with four different potato varieties, four of each variety a way to experiment and to test to see which variety works best in your zone and your soil type.

VERT potatos two varities USE

I was so excited about finding organic seed potatoes as I have not found them easy to locate. I had no luck at all locally or regionally. Then when I discovered this sampler box, I though what fun that could be. I remember thinking that $19.95 for 12 tubers was a bit high but I reminded myself that these were certified organic and I would have to pay more for that certification. And, I was supporting a small, family owned business so I decided to order them.

But when the charge card bill came for the $52.00 total, I was in shock. The tax, shipping and handling on this one small box of 12 seed potatoes was over $32.00. The was one of those very rare times that I did not ask for shipping costs ahead of time and I certainly should have – my mistake and a hard lesson learned.

I carefully planted the tubers in different areas of my garden and marked each variety with a paint stick with the variety name written on it as well as the date of planting. Because I was testing these potatoes I wanted to be sure I could at dig up time tell exactly what was what. They were planted in my Zone 5b garden, in shallow raised beds with our sandy soil that has been amended over the years with compost and bark chips. After they sprouted I put bark chips over the top to keep the moisture in. These potatoes were in the full sun and were well watered throughout the season.

Purple potatoes close

Today when I dug them up I was quite disappointed. The least amount of potatoes in an area from three tubers was two potatoes and the most potatoes in another area were seven small ones. I had planted 12 tubers and I dig up a total of 23 small potatoes. Good grief! That was certainly not what I expected or had hoped for.

Can you imagine my distress? Ultimately I paid $52.00 and some change for 23 small organic potatoes… I guess I will be buying organic potatoes from here on out at the grocery store.

For the record these tubers were planted on 4-10-15 and dug up on 9-25-15.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Cooking by the Seat of My Pants

Gene and I peeled, cut and froze almost a bushel of Asian pears today. Whew, that was a big job, especially on a not yet healthy heal! We still plan to make pear fruit leather later on this week so we are not quite done with the pears yet.

Group of Asian pears

If you are not familiar with Asian pears heir texture is very similar to that of apples, Asian pears closely resemble other pear varieties in their nutritional profile. These fruits are high in fiber, low in calories and contain a number of micronutrients that are important for blood, bone and cardiovascular health. Although delicious on their own, the light sweetness and crispy texture of Asian pears makes them a unique addition to any salad or stir fry.

Never thought to pair Asian pear with the sharp, nutty Gouda, but it was a perfect marriage. Sweet, juicy, nutty, gooey. YUMmm…

Asian Pear Toasted Cheese Gouda Sandwich:

1 tbsp butter (softened)

2 slices rye bread or your favorite type

2 ozs cheese (thinly sliced Gouda)

5 slices Asian pears (1/8 inch thick slices)

How To Make:

Heat a large frying pan over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, spread half of the butter on one side of each slice of bread.

Once the pan is warm, add 1 slice of bread, buttered side down, then top with half of the cheese, all of the pear slices, and finally the remaining cheese. Close with the second slice of bread, buttered side up.

Cook until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted, about 6 minutes per side. Serve with some fresh fruit or a green salad.

Asia pear on toased cheese sandwich

I am really quite pleased with our picking and processing efforts this season. We have frozen fruit in each of our three freezers for the upcoming winter, This fruit included; strawberries, black raspberries, peaches, pears and very soon apples. And of course we have our bushel of tomatoes and many Food Saver bags of corn to add to that list.

My goal is to always find and eat the highest quality, freshest foods I possibly can and I aim for organic and GMO free foods too whenever possible. I believe that their is a distinct and important relationship between food and health. We are not sustainable enough to grow our own fruit yet, it is still gratifying to pick fruit fresh from our neighboring orchardists here in the SW Michigan fruit belt and put it up for eating throughout the year.

After the pears were done, I made a huge crock pot of homemade chicken vegetable and rice soup. This soup will go as my contribution to a potluck on Saturday for a permaculture workshop Gene and I are attending in Kalamazoo. I’ll write more about that event after Saturday. We will also freeze some of the soup in smaller batches for cool weather eating.

Cast Iron pan with rice USE

Wild rice casserole in a cast iron pot to begin and then cooked in the oven.

One of my readers asked me recently for my backed Amish chicken recipe from yesterday’s blog post. I was so busy cooking I did not get any photographs taken. I did that again today, darn it. I explained to her that I started with an Amish chicken and went from there. This is the kind of cook I am; take what I have on hand in the freezer and fridge, in the garden and go by the seat of my pants and create food. This photo is from an Amish chicken I baked a while back but you will get the idea.

Actually, now that I think it through, I am actually a highly organized meal planner. I write out our week’s menu, shop on Monday’s for the food I need foe this week and then cook a big meal that can last a couple of days. But sometime I am busy, or too tired to cook what is planned so then I just wing it. I think all cooks do this from time to time, right?

Gene and I eat our big meal at noon and at night we eat light or sometimes not at all. I try to always have food in the fridge for Gene as he can out eat a teenage boy and I prefer that he eat something other than salsa and chips, or jelly on toast which is what he would grab for if nothing else was prepared. Cooking from-scratch, nutritious food three times a day means he will get enough protein and  vegetables no matter what he eats. Aren’t I a good wife?

Planned or unplanned I like to make a meal that I know I can turn into several different dishes. This is what I did with the Amish chicken. When I shopped for groceries this past Monday I spotted an Amish chicken on sale for 20% off. That usually means the “use by date” is rapidly approaching so I knew that I would be cooking it soon and that I would be planning my meal around that chicken this week.

This is what I did….

Tuesday we ate a baked chicken that I roasted in my old granite roasting pan that was filled with onions, cabbage, carrots, sweet potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, kale, spinach and corn that I froze earlier in the season.

You see I knew I was going to make soup on Wednesday and I figured that I’d just cook the vegetables up ahead of time in the same heat of the oven. I set aside the majority of the chicken meat for a planned meal later on this week when my adult son is visiting.

Then today, Wednesday, I got up early and boiled the soup bones and the legs and thighs. After they cooled off, I took off the meat and added that to the chicken soup vegetables that I already put in the crock pot. I used a quart jar of the chicken bone broth in the soup pot and froze another 2 quarts in the deep freeze for later time. I added lots of garlic (we love garlic!) basil, rosemary, bay leaves, black pepper and fennel seeds. This simmered until noon when I served it with toasted and buttered sprouted Ezekiel Bread.

On the day when my son comes for lunch, I am planning on making my favorite fresh herbal and WARM flat bread rounds and will put out the cold chicken, avocados, tomatoes along with sautéed onions, kale and green beans and chard. My son does not eat a lot of meat due to his gout so I will also have humus on the counter, carrots and a large tossed salad and everyone can make your own sandwich using what vegetable they prefer, a tossed salad and I’ll offer my homemade chicken soup for those who want that as well. A DYI soup and salad lunch will fill my son up with nutrition and tasty food before he drives on to Chicago and catch his plane for his home in Portland, Oregon.

I’ve blogged about this delicious Ranch Flatbread recipe previously but I think it is so outstanding that I’ll print it again here. Gene is lactose intolerant, so I substitute vegan sour cream for the Greek yogurt but you can make it anyway you like.

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/Sir 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 the 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.

These are so delicious fresh and warm and I just love them. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Small House Homesteader, Donna


Perfect Fall Weather

The days in SW Michigan have been outstanding this week. It’s been warm and sunny with low humidity and cool nights for easy sleeping. This has been the “keep the windows open” kind of weather. To me that is the perfect fall week weather-wise. The dogwoods leaves are turning red, the apples are falling and we are rounding the corner on another summer growing season.

Yesterday we finally got the forth, and final, water containment tote connected. The hold-up was a piece of plumbing that was not available in the stores. After weeks of stopping into Menard’s every Monday (our one in-town day), Gene finally found a way to “jury rig” another piece to work. Now when the fall rains begin later on this month all four totes will be collecting rain water. Getting this tote hooked up is a good thing too because we have been doing quite a bit of shrub, vine and perennial transplanting (and watering) of late.

4 275 gallon totes

Less wasted water off of our pole barn roof and more available to use.

Gene made a change in the input downspout on this batch of totes. Instead of using the flexible piece as his did on the first set-up, he choose this time to use a rigid downspout input pipe.

Rigid hose

We are testing the rigid input pipe on the two new 275 water totes.

Gene made this decision because 1) He felt the rigid pipe was easier to install and 2) He hopes it will have less clogging issues.

Flexible input hose

The flexible hose from the first two totes. You can see the difference.

If you follow this blog you know how I feel about animals; chicken, dog, horses…just love them all. And you know about my passion to feed healthy food and herbs to all of my critters. Today I found this wonderful chart created by the


Today I also did a very through clean out/washout of the refrigerator. Chores like that tend to get away from me during the busy summer months and it sure feels good to have that big task complete.

I also baked a wonderful Amish chicken with all the fixin’s; carrots, onions, cabbage, tomatoes and sweet potatoes. We ate this meal for lunch and will enjoy a chicken salad in a homemade pita bread next time followed by homemade chicken, vegetable, brown rice soup. Fall food for sure!

I don’t say this often enough and for that I am remiss. I am so glad you chose to open this email. I hope I tell you enough that it means a lot to me.  I realize that there are so many blog writers offering newsletters each week.  Thank you for joining me here for a few minutes each week.

Small House homesteader, Donna