The Art of Aging Gracefully on the Homestead-Mother Earth News

We are in the current issue of Mother Earth News!

My latest contribution to the current issue of Mother Earth News has hit the news stand. This magazine for those of you who might not know it; is a guide to living wisely while being self-sufficient on the homestead or farm.

The article is titled Aging Gracefully on the Homestead. This is a piece about the challenges of senior homesteading; a topic we know a little something about.

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Although I pitched an ongoing column geared to senior homesteading they opted for a one time “how-to” article. Perhaps they know more about the age of their readership than I do! My contribution was four photographs (out of the eight published) and a part of the text.

Double click on this PDF and I believe that the article will open up. aging-gracefully-1

Homesteading is hard work, and Gene and I are not getting any younger. I doubt anyone will argue with that. There are definitely multiple challenges to continuing to do the physical work required by homesteading as one gets older.

We moved to the Small House Big Sky Homestead fifteen years ago. We started out getting as much done as we could and added additional outdoor projects like the chicken complex and the water containment system each summer. And worked on the house during the winter months. This was a good thing we got a lot done in those early years since even then we weren’t spring chickens. (We were 50 and 55 years old.)

Eventually we got the major items on our to-do list knocked down. Every year we try to accomplish a project or two more outside during the nice weather and a few more small indoor project in the house during the indoor winter months.

Now that we are 65 and 72, our age and our health is beginning to be a real consideration. Fortunately, I started thinking about this several years ago. I asked myself what will I do and how will we manage when it becomes more difficult to do the work we need to do?

This past season I hired hourly help in the garden and yard. We found a local young girl of fourteen who is strong and looking to make some money for school clothes. It’s not a perfect system as Olivia is only available on Sunday afternoons because she runs cross county and runs her daily miles every school night, but we have managed to make it work. And this past winter when Gene had his hernia operation we hired a local small business in the short-term to plow our driveway and another local boy to run the snow blower to clear our paths.The total cash out of pocket during Gene’s recovery was less than $100.00.

Some homesteaders find an apprentice or a farm worker and offer room and board in exchange for work. Others turn a spare bedroom or cabin into an Air B&B for extra cash income on the homestead.

Obviously, there is more than one way to make this work but this is what is woring for us.

The moral of this story is to plan ahead about how you might make your elder years’ on the homestead work for you and how you can turn your homestead into a property that will sustain you when you are older.

I hope to convince the editors at MEN that a monthly column written by me with interviews of senior homesteaders who ARE making it work will be both inspirtional and informative.

To help support this idea please send your letters/e-mails to:Rebecca Martin martin@ogdenpubs.com>

As always, thank you for following and if you are aging homesteaders and want to share tips with me about how you have made senior homesteading work for you, please contact me. I am always looking for new ideas on how you in the hometead trenches are making it work!

Small House Big Sky Homesteader, Donna

What We Love About Homesteading

One of the aspects we love about homesteading here is that this life takes us out of the consumerist life of the city to a life of production and creation. We may not have enough lifetimes to realize our fantasy of full fledge farming (with mini goats and horses) but in our own small way with our garden, our blacksmith forge, the art studio and the restoring of this home and the outbuildings, we feel that we are making, giving, repurposing, and creating more than just buying our way through life.

And when a thing is truly needed there becomes first a reason to repurpose, reuse and to shop auctions, thrift store, flea markets and more.  These items are meant to be used another generation (or two) and the end result is that our home looks like it has always been this way, even when it hasn’t.

I love sharing our life with my granddaughter who is growing up in the city. She has this opportunity to see nature close up and learn about how we care for it. She loves my chickens and egg collecting and it’s amazing to watch her learn, grow and question how things work.

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We also love living with the seasons. There is a natural rhythm to homesteading or farming that is so different from life in the city. For us it is natural to wake with the light and sleep with the dark. It is natural for mankind to be our most productive spring through autumn and then rest, plan, regenerate and restore during the winter months.

We love the ability to search, forage, and gather plants, fruits, berries and to turn them into a productive edible feast or a healing tincture or syrup. This brings joyfulness along with a deeply felt sense of beauty and accomplishment as well.

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We love having the ability to control the food we put into our bodies. We grow it ourselves or source it from trusted growers near us putting that money back into our own community.

We love the freedom this life gives us to go into the woods, marsh, fields and farmland once a day to hike, explore, walk our dog, bird watch, observe nature and be one with the natural world.

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Living here and homesteading lets me practice my ethical belief of acting on behalf of the common good.

There is way of recapturing the spirit of the past found by people like us who have made the decision to slow their lives down to farm or homestead. This is a revival of the pastoral life of long ago while adapting and evolving it to our personal need and tastes.

In no sense was this house, the life the life of our dreams. But over our lifetime this has instead slowly turned into something better, the house and the life of our realities.

These images are the Grand Finale to our saying goodbye to fall on a foggy, fabulous fall morning.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

I’m Back On-Line

I have been gone from this blog for sometime, I know. It’s been a whirlwind year between my diagnosis of autoimmune Hashimotos’ Thyroiditis and Gene’s numerous health issues.  I have been focusing on learning everything I can about Hashimoto’s, finding a Functional Medicine physician all while homesteading. As a result this blog was sadly left in the dust as a result. My sincere apologies everyone!

Now that it is December, cold and snowy, our primary outdoor work (with the exception of caring for my chickens) has been put to sleep for the winter. Today I finally figured out what I needed to do about this perplexing and frustrating lack of space on my existing blog. It seems that I quickly filled all the available space and it was only 6 months into the calendar year. My current system was just not working for me and I didn’t have the time or the energy to research why.

However, I was forced to pay attention to this when my annual service agreement came due.

Today I renewed my WordPress Premium Plan for one year and learned about a process called optimizing my photographs. Do you know about this? Remember I am not a professional blogger, I am but a hobby blogger and some how I missed this basic information. You can read more about this optomizing process here. http://en.support.wordpress.com/media/image-optimization/

Thank you for you patience with me and I hope you had a lovely holiday this year!

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

How Homesteaders Vacation

We took a rare 10 days trip off the homestead this spring. It’s been three years since we took a trip like this together but we in March we drove to North Carolina to see our granddaughter’s who live there. We took advantage of their Spring Break week to spend some quality time with them.

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Our NC granddaughters, Kearnan and Chase.

I believe that most homesteaders either don’t take a vacation of they take what is known as a “stay-cation” -staying on their land but perhaps taking some time off and inviting friends and family over to visit.

Marshall house Air B & b

The home of the airbnb we stayed in while in Marshall, NC.

Then we took a short 2 ½ day “vacation” to Ashville, NC for a few days get-away to sightsee and relax in the beautiful mountains there.  We enjoyed our first experience staying in an Airbnb and toured the Biltmore Mansion and gardens which made me think of the lavish life-style of Downtown Abbey.

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The stunning Bitmore Mansion, Ashville, NC.

One of the questions I get asked is how to ever leave the homestead when you’re the responsible one for animals and everything else?  I do get it…it is really hard to leave!

Marshall Bluegrass concert USE

Marshall, NC is on the Bluegrass Music Trail which meant free bluegrass music every evening.

Luckily our yoga teacher who happens to have three dogs shared the name of her dog setters with us.  I have found that we can get an animal setter if we are willing to pay the high fees and to plan a year in advance.

Erin and Chase doing Easter eggs

Easter egg dyeing fun.

It never easy to leave, but we have learned to plan for March or very early April before our main spring work had begun or the garden needs to be planted. Mid-September is a bit of a lull time for us as well, after the main garden harvest and freezing time of year but before the big leaf pick up of November.

Some homesteaders have responsible teenagers who wan maintain the homestead and animals for a week or two. Or, you might already have a trained intern to draw upon or a nearby farmer or neighbors with whom to trade-off chores when you have to be away. or you can try the Pet Setters Association who list bonded and insured setters at http://www.petsit.com

In our case we hire someone because none of the other options are available for us. We spend this money because it is very important to have a relationship with our grand daughters. This time we saved for almost three years to have the cash available for this trip.

We plan head for a training session of about two hours a week or so before we plan to leave town. We write out a very details “To Do” list, listing everything that needs to be done and detail instructions on how it is normally accomplished.

We also leave the name and phone numbers of a close neighbor who is willing to step in if necessary. We leave business cards of emergency workers including ones for the plumber, electrician and the furnace man in case of a mechanical failure as well as our vets name and number in case of an animal emergency.

We also clean the house, ready our setters bed and bedroom and stock the refrigerator. We double and triple check that we have plenty of animal feed on hand for the time we pan to be away.

It’s a lot of prep work on our account as well as advance planning, but its the only way we can feel comfortable that our animals will be well fed and safe in our absence. After all we feel it is our responsibility to make sure our animals are well taken care of when we are gone. Then off we go!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Small House Homesteads Week in Photo’s-Photo Diary

Balmy warm weather, sunshine and spending time outdoors was the best thing about our week on the homestead.Curious chicken USE                     Look at the shiny hackles on this Heritage Rhode Island Red.

The temperature got up to the 60’s for a few days and we spotted the first Phoebe, Rufus Sided Towee and Robin of the season.

HORZ shrub and cart USE

The weather warmed up enough I could remove the protective burlap from the yewsSister Rhdoes in leaves cute USE  Sisters, sisters / There were never such devoted sisters /

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A Rhodie is drawf-ed by the oak logs target for hatcket practice.

Totes barn chickensThe chickens are interested in our water totes containment center.

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Hey baby…what’s happening?
Burlap frying on fenceDrying the burlap on the vegetable garden fencing.

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Our chickens enjoying the sunshine in the open run near the enclosed Rhodies run.

Pecking at my pants

Newest bluebird house inmeadow USE

We put up two more bluebird boxes this week.

Small House homesteader, Donna

The Story of Sweet Little Snowball Laying Again at Last

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Snowball the white Cochin Bantam today.

Snowball the snow-white Cochin Bantam came to us in the fall of 2014 as a two- week-old rescued chick. She came from a farm where she and her fours siblings and their mother were only being fed cracked corn.

Clover and Snowball

Snowball flying out of the coop, not able to navigate the chicken ladder.

As a result Snowball had some obvious neurological problems. Snowball had a wry neck and when under stress or upset she turned in circles around and around. All of her toes were crooked so she waddles as she walks. I was pretty sure she was suffering from nutritional deficiencies, poor thing.

Clover and four babies

Snowball first fall out in the chicken run. Clover stands close by guarding.

I immediately put the flock on a high quality growers feed and supplemented that with herbs, greens and chicken vitamin drops to try to improve upon their obvious nutritional deficiency. Snowballs body grew but she was never all ‘quite there.’ In fact, I thought she was bit handicapped.

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Snowball and two of her Cochin/Phoenix mix sisters posing on a stump.

Snowball was extremely connected to her mother, Clover, often removing specks of dirt from her Clover’s feathers, grooming her and even when she was almost full sized she wanted to sleep under her Clover’s wings at night. She was very reluctant to grow up.

Snowball looking u coop door Good

Growing, growing, growing….

In fact, Snowball was the last chicken to leave her mother’s side and only because after 5 ½ month her mother turned on her and pecked her in the neck (until blood appeared) to say, “I’m done raising babies and I really mean it this time!”

Funny snowball on stump USE  Quirky Snowball on the stump. The mealworms are how I got her up there!

Snowball has continuously been a quirky little thing, a bit odd and unusually funny. But above all those character traits she has always been sweet like most Cochin Bantams are. It took several months but she began to circle less and less and her wry neck eventually went away. She developed her own personality which is a bit “top chicken” where she pecks away the much larger Rhodies from the food and perches even though she is the lowest chicken in the Cochin flock, she just doesn’t know it! She alerts everyone when crows come around and is kind of the block queen. All the other chickens just kind of melt away and let her have her way. It’s almost like they know she is not all there and have compassion for her and do not raise a fuss. She began to lay, a bit later than her sisters and never laid every day. When she did lay her egg she laid the most petite, creamy white eggEating and posing USETHIS ONE                                                       Not quite full grown.

Last fall when the Cochin’s went through their molt it was almost winter time. Snowball molted with the others but never came back in quite the same way. It took her longer to grow her feathers and she never started laying eggs again. I soon accepted that she was going to be a free loader instead of a layer and because she is such a sweetheart, I never really minded.

Snowball cute on stump USE

Playtime on the stump in the chicken run.

Unlike her serial brooding sisters, Snowball has never gone broody either.

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Snowball is the bird who photograph was chosen for the USDA 2016 Biosecurity Calendar.

One day out of the blue we found a fairy egg. I was pretty sure this meant that someone was beginning to lay again after a long absence, but who could it be? I was puzzled.

Snowball stretchingneck

That funny girl at play..Look at that neck in proportion to her body!

Last week we began to see a new and slightly different egg in the nest box. With two Cochin broodies we couldn’t figure out who was laying this new oblong egg. It was definitely a Cochin egg but whose could it be? After the fourth egg it dawned on me that Snowball was finally laying again She was actually laying after almost a year’s off! Oh happy day!

Brennas hands with eggs 2015

A light-colored petite Cochin Bantam egg.

It is funny to me how very one of these chickens develop their own personalities and how we get so attached to them. I’ve had readers write and comment on how sweet she is. I know we are not supposed to have favorites, but Snowball seems to be every reader’s favorite too.

Two misfires and a Cochin egg USE

Snowball’s two misfires and her normal egg.

Small House homesteader, Donna