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?



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




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


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.


Small House Homesteader, Donna


Searching for the Best Essential Oil Diffuser

I just completed a webinar called “Essential Oil Transformation” with Dr. Josh Axe, about the many uses of essential oils.

If you have been following me you have read I was recently diagnosed with Hasimotos’ thyroiditis a form of thyroid disease that has an immune system component where the body turns on its own organs.

I’ve been following Dr. Axe who is a doctor of natural medicine, a chiropractor and a nutritionist who practices in Nashville, Tennessee using food supplements and essential oils as food. One of Dr. Axe’s specialties is “leaky gut syndrome” thought to be one of the root causes of Hasimotos’.

As a Reiki energy practitioners, I have long been interested in the healing properties of essential oils, I’ve taken workshops before and use them in my own life; on myself, my dog, my husband and my granddaughter. But with our health issues coming to the forefront, but I realized that I wanted to revisit the topic, learn more and to know the right oils to target for Gene brain issues and my thyroid issues.

When Dr. Axe offered a free one hour essential oils webinar I eagerly tuned in. I have mostly used oils directly on the skin, but after that informative program, I decided I wanted a diffuser for myself.

Oil diffusers are used to direct the aroma and the medicinal properties within the oil, known as aromatherapy. When the valuable essential oils are inhaled, you connect to the life force of the plant and the life force within you. The diffuser allow the essence of the oil to penetrate and harmonize the natural energy of you.

People will sometimes confuse aromatherapy diffuser with humidifiers. Actually, these are two different things. Home humidifiers increase the moisture in the air using a large humidifier that moisturizes the air in large rooms or one that is integrated into the heating system to humidify the entire building or home. They are more often used in dry states in the western United States to add humidity (moisture) to the air, especially in the winter. They are also used in humid climates in the wintertime when the furnace is putting dry air into the house.

Too much humidity can reduce the health benefits of the vital oil components in the diffuser by having too much moisture in the air. A diffuser delivers a micro-fine mist to deliver the healing oil’s essential elements in the area of your choice. Dry air can stuff you up, so the diffuser would help to un-stuff your nose.

My Diffuser Requirements:

  1. I wanted my diffuser to run a long time. I crawl into our water-bed in the early evening, read, do my self-Reiki and then drift off to sleep. So I wanted a diffuser that would go the maximum amount of time.
  2. I wanted a diffuser with an automatic shutoff option that would turn off on its own when it ran out of water.
  3. I’m not crazy about colors in diffusers moving about all night I wanted a diffuser that I could turn off the rotating color options.
  4. I wanted a variable output flow; meaning I can increase or decrease the amount of oils coming directly at me.
  5. Because I am a light sleeper, I want a unit that was quiet.
  6. A 2 year warranty was a bonus for me.

So my search began….If you are looking for a diffuser consider this article:Top 10 Newly Released Essential Oil Diffuser Evaluation Reviews for 2016.

This article really helped me with my decision-making process. If you are looking for a diffuser, this will likely help you as well.

I ended up purchasing the Amir 500 Essential oil diffuser cool mist, ultrasonic/humidifier with four timer settings.

Amir Diffuser

This is the diffuser I choose for my needs.

I choose this model because it has a reservoir that is large enough to hold enough water to run for 10 hours and continue to work a whole night while I am sleeping. I can turn off the colors and just go with white (my preference) it has a timer and will turn itself off when it runs out of water and it is whisper quiet.

Bingo this is the one for me.

Small House homesteader, Donna




Under the Weather and Saving Runner Bean Seeds

Overnight it tuned a cool 40 degrees and I woke up with a lousy head cold and sore throat. Oh no! I decided to cancel my in-town physical therapy appointment for today and stay home to try to heal. Sorry my foot!

Fennel in pan USEFennel seeds in a drying pan.

I went right to the fridge to take a huge shot of elderberry syrup made with Elderberry and other wonderful healing herbs that I bought at the Great Lakes Herb Faire I attended in early September. More about the Faire here:…kes-herb-faire/

Pans on wahser and dryer USE

My washer and dryer helps to dry the beans inside the pods.

This magical elixir was made by herbalist Lisa Rose of Burdock and Rose Herbals and quite honestly, it worked really well for me. Four days of the elderberry treatment the last time I had a cold and I was soon back to health. I am crossing my fingers that it works as well this time too.

Foraging Book cover

Lisa M. Rose book on foraging in the Midwest.

I decided this day would be a light work day as well as a nurturing one for me. I bundled up in warm long underwear and a sweatshirt and turned on the Eden Pure heater to take the chill off the house. This Eden Pure heater is such a blessing in the cold weather. Not only does this heater take the chill off the house, because it is portable I can move it close to me and it warms me right up.  And best of all, it can be moved from room to room as needed.

Runner beans on towel on floor

More seed pods than workspace so the floor became a temporary holding space.

I worked on the computer for a while and then I began to work on what I call “Sit Down” projects that have been waiting for a rainy day. I have pans of dried herbs and bean pods in my kitchen, laundry and dining room that need my attention. They need to be separated, fully dried out and stored until next spring’s planting season.

VERT pods on boiler USE

We have hot water boiler heat and this hot water boiler unit dries herbs quickly.

The harvested Scarlett Runner Beans seeds needed to be separated from their pods and to finished drying in the warm laundry room air. I prefer to leave them to dry on the vine but a cold snap and an early frost changed those plans.

Fennel in pan with legs

Sitting on the floor and separating the fennel seeds from the flowers.

After I finished the beans, I worked on the fennel seeds separating the seeds from the flower heads. I love to have my own fresh fennel seeds for cooking and this past spring I replaced my fennel plant as the old one died. The old one lasted some 7 years and was real good producer for me. I knew I had to be careful not to buy the kind that you dig and cook the roof for fennel soup but rather the perennial kind that goes to seed and comes back year after year. Next came the oregano.

While I separated seeds from pods I watched the 2012 documentary, In Organic We Trust, made by filmmaker Kip Pastor. Because I have studied the subject of organic food intimately, there was not a lot of new information for me, but it did serve to cement my earlier resolve to continue to seek out and eat, organic and locally grown foods.

Runner beans on towel on floor

I am storing my seeds and beans in glass jars with lids to keep the bugs out and my harvest as fresh as possible. The oregano will be used for cooking and for the chickens.

Even though I was not happy about feeling sick today I was happy to get this work done and the laundry room cleaned up and tidy once again. I am grateful I have the washer and dryer top as well as the boiler unit to dry things on but I’m even happier to get the room cleaned up and vacuumed up once again. I do admit, I like a neat and tidy looking house! (I suspect it’s the German ancestry in me!)

Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day!

Small House homesteader, Donna

Back Home From the Great Lakes Herb Faire

I just returned from the three-day Great Lakes Herb Faire that took place in Chelsea, MI last weekend. It was a great weekend of sharing and learning from some very talented herbalists.

Big tent sunshine USE

There were 250 registered participants and well-known regional teachers. The delicious food we ate was prepared by the Ann Arbor Food Coop and they did an outstanding job of providing fresh, tasty and organic meals for participants and presenters.

Dad child tent and tree USE

I drove over with my healing friend Nancy Baker who is a body worker with a healing practice in Kalamazoo and gives Reiki, massage, Mayan abdominal work (for pregnant and sexually abused women.)

Lisa Rose in booth

I am still processing the great amount of detailed information I received but certainly feel that the experience was well worth the commitment of my money and time.

Path to Clark lake

The only downside was that it was cold and rainy and I returned home with a nasty cold from sleeping in a tent on the ground. I guess I am getting to the age that sleeping in a tent is no longer attractive.

VERT Map on easle

The people I met were terrific and the training was superb. I have books to read, new website to visit and fresh tinctures and elixirs to try out. I even bought preventative tinctures for my chickens from Susan Burek at Moonlight Mile Farms.

Kids and mom at railing USE

I am very excited that I might have discovered a possible curative herb to try for my chronic bacterial staph infections. I figure I have nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain…

Fols at fire pit USE

A more detailed article to come soon.

Small House Big Sky homesteader, Donna