The Spring Rush 2016

This is the time of year we call “The Spring Rush.” What this means is we have a LOT of outdoor getting ready for the gardening season work going on around the homestead and we are super busy as a result.

This week I have been cleaning up my flower beds; removing leaves, weeding and putting down bark chips. I put organic fertilizer on the flowering shrubs that are planted in the pea gravel around our home. I prefer to use homemade compost in the fall on the plants in the dirt beds, but have the best luck with organic fertilizer in the stones beds in the spring. Putting big buckets of dirt on top of the tidy pea gravel mulch would be counter-productive in my opinion.

Gene removed the pink foam insulation in the roofs of both of the chicken coops and got out our five birdbaths. We also put out the tropical plant in a pot that hides the ugly air conditioner on the front of our home that we store in our laundry room crawl space over the winter.

I sprayed the pink bench and the vintage record stand that will eventually hold flowers for a la flea market look for flowers this summer.

I also bought a flat of basil “starts” this week for lots of tasty fresh cooking and air drying. Each sunny day  bring them out into the sun to grow some more and at night put them into the pole barn in case of a light frost.

Last year I planted 12 starts and had delicious fresh and dried basil until February. This year I bought 15 starts in the hope I can dry even more. I have the best luck with my basil plants planted in pots using well composted horse manure so I will use this system again this year as well.

There is a lot of washing and line drying happening around here right now as well, after all it is spring!

Small House homesteader, Donna

P.S. Please note that I have apparently used up my space limit for photographs on my blog. I am not sure what I plan to do. To increase my space requires a commitment of $24.95 per month and I am not sure I am willing to do that. So posts may be without photographs for a bit.

New Catmint Boarder Garden at the Small House Homestead

nepeta_near field stones
Although this plant is called Walker Low, it really isn’t low growing but it is a stunning plant.

After several years of trying to divide and transplant Walker Low catmint (Nepeta-faasseni) with very mixed results I finally gave up trying to save money and I bought 20 plants for a planned border in my turn-around bed that I have been trying to create. I used the egg sale money I have saved from the past years.

Catmint in the ground USE

My catmint perennials are coming up nicely after the long winter. 

Catmint, if you are not familiar with it is an easy-to-grow perennial that tolerates average to dry, moist soil. Their cheery lavender blooms look good when most other perennials are done for the season. They like half sun half shade and are hardy in zones 3-8.

Most catmints prefer full sun and well-drained, not overly fertile soil, although plants in hot summer areas do well with some afternoon shade. Related to catnip but much showier its gray-green foliage remains attractive throughout the growing season as well. Established plants are quite drought tolerant.

This morning we drove to my favorite nursery, Huntree Nursery in Glenn who had them ready for me. Huntree is a family owned seasonal nursery and a favorite place for many in our area to buy trees, evergreen and shrubs. In the fifteen years we have lived here I have purchased a LOT of plants from Huntree.

Hunt tree USE

 Spring has sprung at my favorite nursery, Huntree Nursery, Glen, MI. 
In 1971 Jan and David Landry came to work at the nursery after graduating from Michigan State University. Nine years later they purchased the business. And the rest as they say, is history.
Catmint and border
Today’s purchase of catmints will be the base of my new border.

Catmint Walker’s Low is famous for its wonderful fragrance, is deer resistant, attracts hummingbirds and butterflies’ and is bee friendly. Not really a low grower, ‘Walker’s Low’ will grow 24-30 inches tall and had no serious insect or disease problems. It is used in rock gardens, border fronts, herb gardens or naturalized plantings.

Catmint Walker’s Low is famous for its wonderful fragrance that butterflies, bees and cats love. Beautiful, lush, purple flower spikes start to appear in early summer and continue for up to 3 months. It’s a great perennial to add to your garden.

Catmint is a perfect plant for our homestead because it can tolerate our sandy soil and our on- again, off-again periods of drought. I love that it flowers throughout nearly the whole summer and into the fall season. Not only is it beautiful with it naturally rounded mounding shape and blue-green leaves, it the ideal herb to give to the chickens to eat too.

I picked them up in the morning and then I spent the day digging and planting.  They will grow for a few years into a splashy border and then I will have more plants to divide and transplant throughout my gardens.

Here are a few copyright free images if using catmint in the garden border. Isn’t this the most stunning plant when used in mass?

hadspen-house-somerset-gravel-path-with-catmint-borders-nepeta-x-faasenii-B29WRK

 

b2808386088424e736b43783697d3dc6 catmint boarder 2

After mine fill in and grow I’ll be sharing an “after” photographs of our garden border at a later date.

Small House homesteader, Donna

 

 

 

Small House Weekly Homestead Photo Diary


Not that I am complaining….but summer weather came upon us suddenly this week on our homestead in SW Michigan. One night it is freezing and the next day it is sunny and hot. In fact, it was sunny and hot all week-long and no rain. The daffodils are bursting out everywhere and their bright yellow color everywhere makes me happy. Even the daffodils that I had thought were drowned in the 2009-2012 high ground water flooding have returned with many new blooms and are spreading.

Firepit in meadow ith Rhodies very close GOOD

The Rhodies love to scratch and peck in the wood ash from the recently burned down fire pit.

While this is a mood boosting strategy we do need rain here and a lot of it. Not only do the plants and trees need life-giving water to get a really good start, we need to fill our water containment totes for the long, dry summer ahead. The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting hotter than usual and less rain that usual in our part of the state. In a 1950’s style home without a/c and a not-currently-working swimming pool, this is not good news. Sigh.

April daffodils to circle USE

The daffodils are bursting out in the crab apple tree circle garden right now. 

We hope to get the swimming pool up and running again soon but a large chunk of cash is needed to do that and not in the budget right now. The pool needs to be drained, scraped, acid washed, re-painted and the mechanical’s up and running again. It’s going to a big and expensive project.

Daffodils in triangle under fruit tree USE

Circles of daffodils in the fruit tree triangle. 

Gene worked on removing the deer netting from around the hydrangea shrubs and turned the pool pump turned on and got out the hoses. He also worked on repairing the ruts in the meadow this week. The rusts came as a result of the roadside trimmer driving their large, heavy truck to dump the mulch. The ruts were filled with a mix of sandy soil from the woods, well-composed horse manure from a friend’s farm and topped with good composted soil from the compost pile. In the fall, I’ll plant grass seeds. Grass seeds do not germinate well here in the spring time unless we have a very wet year to keep them going. Grass seed simply does better here if I spread it in the fall and let the snow melt germinate it the following spring.

Cart, Rhodies Gene digging w shovel USE

Gene digging composted soil with his Rhodie helpers fishing for worms.

Daffodils in bloom in bird bed USE

Our bird feeding bed is edged in daffodils and a bloom.

I spent most of my week dispersing straw and then bark chips. I made some good progress but have a l-o-n-g way to go yet.

Rhodies close puzzld cute

This Rhode Island Red chicken is certainly strutting her stuff in the leaves.Gen holing Crystal who is lfying downCrystal wants to get away after wiping down her messy butt from a bit too many kitchen scraps.

Burning bush and daffodils barn

Bloom where you are planted my friends!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

The Chicken Garden Project – Phase One – Getting Started


Like many gardener’s we have a new garden project going almost every year. This is how I manage to accomplish new garden projects with my current homestead work load. My working formula is that I work on this project an hour or two each morning and then I accomplish a little bit everyday!

Cement blocks withgreenhouse hoops and garden USE

Soil, straw and bark chips make up the base of my boarder garden. 

This year’s project is what I am calling the chicken garden. I plan to add some color and form on the North-end entry gate to our chicken coop and runs.  I also want to add some pizzazz and visual interest. I plan to only plant easy-care perennials so I don’t have more than the basic seasonal work to maintain them. These perennials have proven themselves to be low water and easy-care plant here already.

Two step stones in bark chips chicken garden

Just a simple stone and chip pathway lead to the chicken run.

In this case, I am going to transplant some of my standard “nothing will kill them” hardy plants from other parts of our property. I’ll be using the tried and true plants that I know can stand up to whatever weather Mother Nature Give’s us;  from drought to flooding. These are the perennials that have proven their merit over and over during the past 15 years we have lived and gardened here on our SW Michigan homestead.Rhodies close puzzld cute

The eventual recipient of the chicken garden.

Small House Homesteads Top Ten Hardy and Easy-Care Perennials:

  1. Day lilies
  2. Iris
  3. Catmint
  4. Black eyed Susan’s
  5. Brown eyed Susan’s
  6. Shasta Daisy’s
  7. Butterfly Bush
  8. Comfrey
  9. Sedum (spreading and low growing)
  10. Autumn Sedum Joy

thB2ARDF5I

The herb comfrey in full bloom.

My overall goal is to brighten the place up a bit when we walk out to the coop a half-dozen times a day. I also want to play down the ugly, gray cement blocks that hold down the greenhouse hoops. The blocks are super practical and make the low-cost side of this design work just fine, but I would like to pretty them up a bit.

Metal stake in cement block

I hope to soften down the hard lines of these gray cement blocks with green plants.

I started by amending the soil with good composted dirt from our compost bins and then added spent straw and topped with bark chips from the recent roadside clean up crew. Then I added six flat stepping-stones to a simple bark chip pathway that I put down to deal with the spring mud. The step-tones were once used in another garden location at once point. These stones resided for a few years in the bed behind our three-season porch but the shrubs there grew big enough to fill that open space and I was not longer using those step stones to get into and out of that bed.

Boarder at coop before just chips USE

Bark chips help to keep the weeds down as well as the moisture in the soil.

Before I could plant any flowers on our homestead I have learned I must seriously amend the soil and kill the grass that was growing there. Because our soil is super lean, sandy oak savanna soil that is also devoid of most necessary nutrients, so my garden prep process typically takes me a year or two to amend the soil before planting.  This small garden border is no different.

2016 pine pile USE

This great mound of bark chips will soon disappear.

My formula is quite simple; I add soil from the compost bins mixed with old soil from within the fire pit. Then I added some bark chips and mulch left for us by the local tree trimmers.  This tree trimming mulch includes pine needles and other greenery that will also help to amend our soil and add nitrogen to make a nutrition base for the flowers I plan to add in a year or two.


Chickens shack, hoops and garen USE

Another view of the “back forty.”The chicken run, the pool shack and of course, our girls!

While the amendments were doing their thing, I consulted a great book called Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard. By Jessi Bloom. This book is full of practical and beautiful solution for any gardener who wants to invite a flock into their backyard. It’s a great resource and give good tips and used many lovely color photographs for ideas and interest.

Chicken Garden foront cover book

If you are considering landscaping in or around your coop or run here are a few relevant posts you might also enjoy.

Enjoy!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

 

Dispersing of the Straw Bale Wind Block

This week I have been busy distributing the chickens straw bale wind block.

Chickens shack, hoops and garen USE

The straw bale wind block that collapsed after the winter snow.

Each fall we set up stacks of square-baled straw around our chicken coop and run with the goal of blocking some of the big winds we get here on the homestead. We live not far from Lake Michigan and we definitely get the results of a lot of lake related winds that we feel on our homestead.

Come spring I use these bales as mulch and distribute the wet straw around many plants and trees in the garden and the landscaped beds including our five-year-old baby pine trees.

Pine and staw in foreground-cart in rear

Baby White Pines replaced those that were cut down.

As organic material straw will eventually rot and turn into soil, amending the existing soil as they rot. The clumps of straw also hold in moisture from the spring rains which will benefit whatever growing things they are spread around.

Straw in the cart

Our garden cart full of straw on its way to be distributed.

This year we were also lucky to be able to be the recipients of three (or possibly four) truckloads of organic materials cut back from our community’s roadside program. These are wood chips, pine needles and other brown and green organic materials.

2016 pine pile USE

The big pile of organic mulch that needs hauling and spreading. 

The stars all alligned this spring. I simple stopped and talked to the guys who were cutting and offered our property as the free place to dump them and requested that they be dumped in our meadow. Because they usually have to pay to dump these materials and often we have to pay to buy them; so this was a win for us both.

It is certainly a blessing to have these organic materials to work with in our garden, yard and landscaping. Both the straw and the green cuttings will save us money, time and vehicle wear and tear. And having the mulch on site will benefit all the growing things from plants to shrubbery that we have work so hard to plant and maintain.

Nothing is wasted here on the homestead!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

 

Soil Is the Great Connector of Lives

 A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Cert with compost

Our garden cart and 5-gallon buckets are an essential part of my garden labor.

A granddaughter of a dairy farmer I never realize the real importance of the soil until I came to the Small House Homestead. I have learned that a high quality, healthy and organic soil makes the difference between being able to grow and not grow. Healthy organic soil is the foundation of food security.

Compost Gene shveling with truck USE

Gene is shoveling bark chips from the truck to the buckets.

Our most important job as vegetable gardeners is to feed and sustain soil life, often called the soil food web, beginning with the microbes. If we do this, our plants will thrive, we’ll grow nutritious, healthy food, and our soil conditions will get better each year. This is what is meant by the adage ”Feed the soil not the plants.

Every season I work to make our soil healthier through making my own homemade compost. Kitchen scraps, chicken poop, spent flowers and leaves; everything that is not meat or bones goes into our compost pile.

Leaves bins woods USE

Our 6-bin compost station built of pallets and T stakes is not fancy but it gets the job done.

Today I spread our homemade compost on the fruit trees, shrubs and some of our perennials. I was able to make about 12 5-gallon buckets this year. Every year I make more compost and every year I do not have enough to go around.

Comppst buckets close USE

I have to decide which plants most deserve the composted soils and then top dress them with well composted horse manure for the rest. We are fortunate to have as much horse manure available as we can haul home.

VERT comppst in buckets USE

5-gallon buckets of compost and manure lined up waiting to be spread.

This is a big deal for us because our Oak Savannah forest soil is lean, sandy and pretty much nutrient free.

In compst bin heads up best USE

I let the chicken do the work of turning the composted soil.

Our soil building formula is simple; homemade compost, horse manure and bark chips as mulch. Without this I don’t think I would be able to garden or grow at all.

Making soil and growing food and flowers is my calling.

Soil is the great connector of life

Small House homesteader, Donna

Fall to Winter Chicken Nutrition

Fall is upon us here on the homestead and in Michigan this means that winter is not far behind. Some years we get four weeks of fall weather and some years we only get two. So we are quickly getting prepared!

Rhodies pecking on top of leg

Two Rhodies pecking bit of leaves and seeds from my legs.

This is a transition time for us and our chickens. As the seasons change here in Michigan, so do the nutrition needs of my chickens. I have been focusing on adding more protein into their diets and giving them more free range time in the woods to scoop up the last of the worms and bugs that reside in the fall leaves.

In compst bin heads up best USE

Free ranging in the “black gold” soil of compost bins.

Fall to Winter Nutrition Starts for us in the Coop;

I have started giving my girls what I call the “High Test” each morning and each night. This is a mix of high protein feeds to give them more internal heat and to help them warm-up for the day ahead. These food choice also boost their protein after the brooding and molting time of year.

Chives and barley for chickens

Laundry rack sprouting station.

You may recall that our Cochin’s spent almost six weeks brooding and that was followed by a severe molting process. They looked pretty tattered and torn. Poor girls!

Waters and Chrystal

Crystal vegging in the Cochin’s coop prior to laying her egg.

I’ve experimented with various feeding trays; from rubber foot wipe mats to deep rubber bowls (which I now use fill with water in the non-freezing season) and old plates. What I have found to work the best, and what I prefer are clay pot trays that you can buy in various sizes or find at garage sales. They are heavy-duty enough to not get kicked over, with a short lip they hold the food while keeping dirt and leaves out and can easy be easily washed in soap and water every night. I periodically sanitize them using vinegar and a day baking in the sunshine.

Close up

Cochin/Phoenix mix bantam.

Honestly my chickens still prefer to eat their food right off the ground, but I offer it to them first in the clay pot trays stacked on pieces of 2 X 4’s or blocks to lift them higher off the ground. Raising them higher can keep the dirt and leave s from being scratched into them. In the winter months it’s a constant battle between human and naturally scratching chickens, but I do try to keep the poop and the food separate.

Rhodies in front of bins best

My Rhodies love to scratch for tasty treats in and around the compost bins.

High Test Chicken Feed in Olive Oil w/ Fresh Chopped Garlic

I use a wide mouth canning jar to mix the “High Test” feed in. After each use, I pop the jar into the dish washer for a very good wash. I don’t measure the feed, I just eyeball the mixture and that has worked fine for us. Each ingredient measures about 1/3 of a cup. The chickens receive half of this mixture in the a.m. and the last half of it in the p.m., just before they roost for the night.

Small House Homesteads High Test Mix:

1/3 organic layers feed (for their vitamins and minerals)

1/3 meal worms (their favorite food)

1/3 BOSS (black oiled sunflower seeds for protein and heat)

I toss these three items above into the jar, add my pre-mixed olive oil mixture and give it a quick stir.  For my olive oil mixture recipe see those details below.

Small House Homesteads Olive Oil Infusion Mixture:

Using a second quart-size, wide mouth canning jar I mix up the following items; chopped fresh garlic, dried herbs and fill the quart  jar to ¾ full of olive oil. Like an infusion, I let this mixture steep throughout the winter changing out the jar from time to time.  My herbs vary between chopped up dandelion roots and culinary herbs like oregano, basil and always chopped raw garlic for my girls good heath.

Coop walking into run USE THIS as ONE

The Cochin’s coop just after it was completed.

Each day I let my chickens out to free range for between 30 and 60 minutes. Mine must be human supervised so some days their free range time is short and some days I might be able to manage and hour and a half. Generally this is enough time to fill their crops with tasty worms, bugs and seeds and satisfy their deep need to scratch and peck. Often times they are content to be called back into the coop for a nice long drink of fresh water after that. On a beautiful sunny fall day I might even be able to let them out twice in one day.

Raspberry barlet frame with cross board through fence

The outdoor bare seed area. Those pieces of wood on top keep the birds out.

This fall I have been taking them to the leave strewn path in the woods where the worms are hiding under the many layers of leaves. The chickens have really enjoyed this activity and have been very busy scratching and pecking. The also discovered the old dirt pile this fall. This pile has been where we threw any extra dirt or weeds we did not want in the compost bins. This fresh compost pile has never been turned or worked in any way so the chickens have delighted in that dirt this fall.

HORZ Rhodies run very close up USE

The Rhodies coop inside of their secure run.

We also removed the boards from the back of our 6-part compost bin and let them jump up and in and work that soil as well. All of these food centers are located at the back of our property under the wood lots edge located behind the blacksmith forge and are protected from the wind. And now that the trees have lost their leaves the sun shines down on this area throughout the day. It is the perfect place for chickens to free range right now.

Rhodie close in leaves USE

Happily pecking and scratching in our deep White Oak leaves.

Around 4 or 5 p.m. in the afternoon I toss out sprouted barley greens to make sure that they have eaten enough live greens each day and the last of their high-test feed. In the early fall before the snow comes they eat their barley greens that are growing right in the soil of their run where I have planted three large patches. When those greens are gone or the frost has arrived, then I begin to sprout indoors. I make and give them sprouts because will have many times more nutrition than the adult plant of the seed to begin with.

Barley green and frame USE

Of course they have water with garlic, their chicken layers feed and dried egg shells to free feed throughout the day.

Single Rhodies on straw bale USE

Bales of hay to block the wind and for a chicken jungle gym!

As you can see nutrition for humans, dogs and chickens is serious business on our homestead!

Small House homesteader, Donna