Spring on the Small House Homestead – Photo Diary

Good morning! Spring is truly busting out all over on the Small House Homestead this month.

HOR quince and bench studio USE

A favorite flowering quince bush bursts into bloom at my studio building. 

Forsythia and studio USE

All of my forsythia shrubs were transplanted or propagated from tiny shrub starts.

Phlox and stones USE

Creeping phlox offers a splash of pale lavender and spreads.

Spring and its intense flowering beauty is what we in Michigan live for!

Burning bush and daffodils barn

Daffodils and a burning bush in front of the pole barn.

Violets and logs in garden USE

Wild spreading violets in the vegetable garden. They will be transplanted when it rains. 

Our homesteads many flowers, shrubs, fruit trees and bushes are really starting to come alive!

Pink pear blossoms

Planted in 2015 , this peach tree replaced a tree that died from our high ground water flooding.

Phlox and chartreause shribe behind porch USE

The low growing flowers and shrubs behind the three-season porch.

Our 5-acre homestead garden is a bloom with the fruits of fifteen years of my labor.

Silver Lace Vine , trelllis, fence

The newly planted (2015) silver lace vine on the trellis is putting out leaves.

Violets under digwood in bird bed

Masses of wild purple violets bloom in the bird feeding bed under the dogwood tree.

Freckles with persnality and Snowball USE

Freckles and Snowball out and about enjoying the sunshine.

Playhouse with climber

The playhouse in the spring; day lilies are growing again and the climbers are too.

Sidewalk and chalk fun

Chalk drawings on the sidewalk speaks the language of spring.

I hope you enjoy a view of this week on the homestead and that you bloom where you are planted!

Small House homesteader, Donna

The Small House in its Autumn Glory-Photo Diary

I apologize for being so out of touch lately. Fall is such a busy time of year for us at The Small House that the outdoor work just takes over our lives. Hopefully I can make up for fewer blog posts of late with some interesting and lively photographs sharing the beauty of our homestead in the autumn.

We’ve had a hard frost already here in SW Michigan. Hard enough that it froze my remaining potted annuals and tender hydrangeas but once again the weather has turned warm. In these parts we call these warm days, our Indian Summer. I am enjoying the warm sunshine as are our animals who love to lay in the warm dirt and dust or nap.

Small House under bog tree USE

Our small house under the big SW Michigan sky. 

The surrounding woods are taking on new shades of reds, yellow and amber thanks to the cooler nights. There is a vivid beauty about the countryside now that stirs my soul.

HORZ turn around coop in rear USE

This bed, with its ornamental grasses and mum’s really shines in the Autumn.

As those of you who homestead know; this time of is year we call “The Crunch Time” or “The Fall Rush.” I imagine that you are working as hard as we are to gather the last of the vegetable harvest, to close down the gardens and get the animals and their pens ready for winter. These seasonal chores plus my plantar fasciitis, physical therapy and various doctor’s appointments have kept me on the run.

While I honestly prefer a more home-center, slower-paced way of life, I know I must take care of my health right now and that means many appointments in town and twice-weekly working out.

Mums foreground trellis grasses USE VERT

The billowing and blowing grasses are among my favorite native perennials.

The fruits of our labor can be enjoyed in our perennial gardens right now. Native perennial plant, stones hauled home from farmers fields and roadside ditches, mingle with my carefully chosen plantings and projects all lovingly built and maintained, that shine during the Michigan fall. I enjoy every season here but if I had to choose my favorite, I think it would be autumn.

Fencegate raspberries USE

The fenced-in black raspberry patch is one of our chicken’s favorite runs.

Here is a peek at the Small House Homestead this week in all of our lovely fall glory.

Bird grden shrub and birdfeeder USE

Shrubs and feeders provide food and shelter for our beloved songbirds.

Fence and pool shack USE

Our non-working in-the-ground pool resides nestles up against the forest edge.

Gene cart Rhodies on straw USE

Bales of hay will block the winter winds to the chicken run and coop areas. Then next spring these bales will be broken down for mulch in the garden.

Pole barn under sky USEThe chicken condo complex is nestled under our majestic White Oak trees.

Meadow nice USE

The pool shack, meadow grasses and the wood lot in late October.  

North west side of house with hydragneas geen

Our 1950’s era ranch-style home. Yes, that is an old-fashioned TV antenna not a UFO!

Pool shack fall USE

The pool shack storage shed with our home in the distance.

Fence and pool shack USE

The pool complex, storage shack and garden.

I hope you enjoyed you enjoyed a taste of fall on our homestead.

Small House homesteader, 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


Photo Diary – Chicks Photo Shoot – Day Four


Top bottom chicks day 4 blue dishes jpeg

May all your eggs be fresh and all your chickens healthy!

This Small House Homestead Photo Diary idea came from a similar post done by blogger and homesteader, Lori Leigh of LL Farms. Lori called her project, The Chick Photo Shoot.

I stumbled upon her work on-line and fell in love instantly with this idea. Lori has totally inspired me to try my hand at photographing my new chicks. Lori and I both homestead, love chickens, hand-paint furniture and play with our photography…a lot in common for two strangers!

You can enjoy her photography here: http://llfarmblog.blogspot.com/2015/04/babychickphotoshoot.html

Today is my chicks fourth day in this world and I decided since they had a few days to recover from their trip here, I could risk tiring them out a bit today. I wanted to capture this adorable “new chick” stage while I could.

Honestly, I had my doubts that I could pull this off but actually I am quite happy with the results. I shot less than a dozen images and two of my favorite ones are pictured on today’s post. I plan to take more photographs tomorrow, so stay tuned for those in a future post.

Black streaked alone USE

My four-day-old Rhode Island Red chicks first photo shoot!

The chicks are now eating from their chick feeder, stretching out their legs and flapping their wings. Their pin feathers are doubling in length overnight. They are developing so fast I swear I can see them growing right in front of my eyes!

I used some of my favorite blue and white china pieces as props and to “contain” them. These pieces are left over from a large collection of Phoenix Bird China and small collection of other blue and white pieces  I once owned but sold to build my art studio. However I still have enough less-than-perfect pieces left to use as serving dishes and to fill an antique curved front china cabinet in our living room.

Posing towards m USE

Just like a pro this chick turns her profile to the camera. Say cheese!

I used my light green, dry-brushed kitchen bookshelf because it has a back and sides and I thought this would be the safest setting for these unpredictable and often flighty creatures.

I emptied a shelf and pulled it away from the wall and out a bit to capture the side-lighting from our large dining room window. I hand-held my Cannon Rebel camera with my wide-angle lens and took some photographs. I am sure had I used my tripod and taken more time the pictures would have even been crisper. But the welfare of my funny, quirky and active chicks was foremost in my mind.

Mothers day grphic for Facebook jpeg

A planned Facebook graphic to post for all the mother’s out there.

The single chick just sat docile in the cup and posed but the two other ones (those with the darker stripes on their back) both jumped right out of their dishes. Photo shoot over for today!

They were out of their brooder less than 5 minutes more likely three minutes so please believe me when I say…no chicks were endangered in this photo shoot.

Here are a few more of my creations I made today using PicMonkey.com
Mothers Day graphic for janet 2015

For my own mother on Mother’s day (shhh…please don’t tell her!)

Small House Homesteader, photographer and chicken keeper, Donna

Another Red Letter Day on the Homestead

We had another red-letter day on the Small House Homestead yesterday.

After 8 months of hard work, building a coop and a covered chicken run and healthy organic feed, we got out first egg yesterday! Horray!

First Egg 3-16-15

This tiny Phoenix Egg in Gene’s hands is our first homegrown one.

You may recall that we rescued a momma hen and her five babies last September. One baby chick, JoJo, was seriously injured when her leg and foot were paralyzed and, unfortunately, she did not make it. Rest in peace JoJo.

Freckles close

Freckles the Phoenix with silver in his ruff and iridescent green feathers.

I don’t know for sure who laid it but it was one of our four girls, one who is a white Cochin and three black ones that seem to be more Phoenix than Cochin though I suspect they are a Cochin/Phoenix mix. And to confuse things even more, their momma was a white Cochin too.

Sitting pretty

The girls pose in their covered run.

No matter the origin this tiny egg is brown and as sweet as can be. This will likely end up in an egg, kale, mushroom and cheese omelette. Yum!

Three heads up house in rear USE today

Sunbathing on the bales of straw on a 60 degree early spring day.

When you start out with tiny baby chicks like this, you are laying the ground work for eggs in 7 to 12 months (depending on the breed). It takes a lot of   nurturing, feeding and generally caring for these chicks turned chickens for a long time before you are actually rewarded with an egg.

Funny chickie babies 4 FBcollage jpeg

Portraits of the girls late last fall.

Sometime its hard to be patient and to remember that through all this hard work of building a chicken coop and outdoor chicken run and time and energy to feed organic, will pay off in the end.  In the process we must overcome lack of confidence, injuries and sometimes mites or fleas, bumblefoot disease and more.

One thing I have discovered is that if one spends enough time with their chickens they will tell us where they need to go and how to get there.

Chicken keeping is not a process of instant gratification but instead one of setting a goal and then slowly working hard over the long run towards the finish line.

Kind of like the process of homesteading itself!

Small House Homestead, chicken keeper, Donna

Sunday at Grandma’s Small House Homestead

Brenna holding wedges USEI’ve taken a few days off a couple from blogging. This is in part because I have been under the weather and then getting ready for a day with family.

I spent the morning cooking a big “from scratch” home-cooked meal that included an Amish chicken with root vegetables, a wild/brown rice  casserole, Jello fruit salad and a lettuce salad and then enjoying our granddaughter’s Sunday dinner visit.

We spent a wonderful day with our granddaughter, son and girlfriend Sunday. We enjoyed a tasty home cooked dinner, enjoyed helping grandpa put up the new bird feeder and filling the garbage cans up with sunflowers seeds, playing with the chickens, learning to play dominoes and just generally enjoying spending time together. A wonderful day!

Brenna petting USE

 Brenna’s enjoying her first touch of our chickens.

Whoa wings flying USE

Watch out those chickens do fly!

Brenna looking under grandpa pounding USE

We put up the new bird house but its wiggly?

Brenna holding wedges USETime for wedges!

Brenna looking under grandpa pounding USE

Just a few more adjustments!

Grandpa pouring bucket Brenn w lid

Brenna holding the copper top while grandpa dumps the sunflower seeds.

At the end of the day I asked Brenna what was her favorite thing of the day? She answered, “Helping grandpa with that craft thing!”

Kids say the darndest things! Love that girl!

Small House homesteader and grandmother, Donna


Dogs as Family Members – Our Waterdog

So many of us homesteaders have dogs and consider them real members of our family, especially a working dog.

Sassy sleeping on gun

Sassy sleeping in the sun after a long days hunt.

Gene and I are no different. We happen to be Labrador lovers and always had Labs as part of our family. We have often had up to two Labrador Retrievers at a time, and at the present moment we now have one Lab, a petite 55 lb. black Lab we call Sassy.

Ball Sassy CUTE

Sassy and I play ball outside almost every day. I kick, she retrieves.

Sassy came to us rather unexpectedly when another Lab owner saw how we treat my chocolate Lab “Sprit” that has since passed on. This lady stopped us, introduced herself and complimented us our Spirit’s behavior. She also told about an outstanding breeder of Labs in a nearby community where she had purchased her own dogs.

Sassy eyes

Intelligent eyes!

As these casual encounters often do, one thing led to another, and we brought home this 12 week old black Lab puppy that has been bred tiny for field trial work. In fact, she was the one dog that this breeder had planned to keep her for himself and train her. We heard sweet stories that his four daughters had been really taken to her, played with her and dresses her up in dog clothes on their bed. The girls had already named her Sassy and it fit her personality 100%, so it stuck. To this day when Sassy hears the voice of a young girl her tail wags in circles and she is ready to play. I honestly think she has wonderful memories of those girls.


Some of us pick up sticks – some of us just like to lie down on the job and chew them.

Now at just age seven, Sassy is a petite powerhouse that lives to run and retrieve. And she is a wonderful companion dog to me on the homestead as well. She does chores with me every day, helping me to feed the chickens, give seeds and water to the songbirds, picks up sticks in the yard when I do and generally keeps me company. She looks like a puppy but is a fierce watchdog that I would not want to get on the bad side of either.

Sassywaiting to swim

Retrieving bumpers is part of her daily training.

Late this winter Sassy was feeling unusually poorly and ended up with what we think was a viral infection in her lungs. For a dog that absolutely must be run and hour or more every day, this dog was down for the count. She slept and she wheezed, we were starting see her bones poking though and we knew she was losing weight and we were worried. After about a week of sleeping all day and night, we took her to our vet and came home with an antibiotic and cough suppressant.

Sassy bumpers waukeena collage

On your mark get set go. Swim to that bumper and bring it back.

We started the antibiotic immediately and she rallied a bit on day three but then just stalled. I was concerned that this bug was antibiotic resistant and she was going to relapse. I’d heard about a holistic vet in a nearby community and gave her a call. Through our phone conversation Dr. Dolan told me about a high quality supplement company that makes supplements for equines and canines. They make a product that boosts the immune system and I felt that this product was just what we needed.

Sassy snowon face jpeg use

Sassy the snow dog as well as a waterdog!

The veterinary formula product is called Canine Immune System Support and is made by Standard Process out of Palmyra, Wisconsin. This company that has been in business since 1929 make only certified organic whole food supplements for canines and equines. More information can be found at http://www.standardprocess.com

The ingredients of this Immune Support product are Bovine liver, nutritional yeast, bovine and ovine spleen, rice bran, bovine spleen BMG, bovine thymus extract, carrot, bovine kidney buck leaf wheat juice, pea vine juice, wheat germ, mushroom, Spanish black radish, kelp as well as Minerals including Calcium, magnesium and Zinc as well as other ingredients. I have not listed every single ingredient found in the box, but you get the main idea here.

I admit, it was expensive but I was willing to give it a try.

Within a little over two weeks Our Sassy girls was back with us. And not only was her energy level high once again, her coat was shiny and soft. And perhaps I should not judge her insides by the look and feel of her coat but her pep was back to normal and she was well again.

We have our beautiful girl back again.

I am not being paid for this commercial. I am talking about it by my own free will as I am a happy customer.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Odd Chicken Behaviors and Wintertime Boredom Busters

Collage side by side withorange text jpegFor some reason our chickens have a thing, and I mean a real genuine thing about the wood under their chicken coop. They are “chewing it.” Yes, actually chewing the wood.  When I look at the wood I can actually see little beak marks all up and down the 2 X 4. Everyone, even advanced chicken keepers, are pretty baffled about this strange, even-for-a-chicken behavior. It is actually outright weird and chickens can be pretty weird from time to time anyway-sort of the nature of the beast!

Chickens under coop in dusting area

Our Cochin/Phoenix mix chickens under their coop in their favorite hang-out, now out-of-bounds!

You can literally see little vertical beak mark scratches up and down the board where they have scraped something off its surface.  I’ve considered many possibilities of what might be driving a chicken to do this; perhaps they need to sharpen their beaks, there might be bugs in the wood, there could be moss on the wood, maybe this is just winter boredom…. all kinds of possibilities. I can’t see anything on the surface of the wood other than old wood with some paint on parts of it. And it’s the same paint that is on the rest of their coop that they pay no attention to, so I honestly do not think it is that.

Gene hanging eye hook, close jpeg

Gene is putting up an eye hook to hang the “chicken boredom busters” from.

One day I watched them do this odd behavior all morning and then gag or grasp for air  as a result. I began to imagine tiny wood fibers in their throats and became alarmed. I remember thinking to myself this cannot be healthy. So I consulted the Chicken Critters and More Facebook list and while lot of “maybes” were thrown out, everyone pretty much agrees we need to seal this area off to protect the chickens from splinters and whatever else may be on that wood. Sorry girls, this is another one of those “tough love” decisions at work.

Gene hanging cabbage in run jpeg

Gene hanging the head of cabbage from the roof truss in the covered run.

It’s really too bad too because this is the one area where the soil does not freeze and where their mother (now  re-homed) taught them to dust. And they absolutely adore this area because they can scratch up the sandy oil there, eat the roots of the grass found there and I think they feel protected from the elements and we human messing around in their run.

Corn and cabbage hanging from roof truss jpeg

Head of cabbage and ear of corn….sounds almost human doesn’t it; head and ear?

Since we have taken away their favorite “hang-out” (bad chicken momma!!) we hung a head of cabbage and an ear of corn from the roof truss. My thinking is, if we took away their best playground we should give them back some things fun to do in return. We also added a pile of sand in a corner and they were immediately on top of it like King of the Mountain.

Cabbage hanginging alone in run

Cabbage the best boredom buster out there….but will they know to eat it?

I feel really bad to close their play pen off but in the end we covered it up to keep them out for a few months as a form of protection. Maybe we can open it back up in a few weeks and they will have forgotten about the scraping?

Have you ever encountered weird and odd chicken behaviors in your chickens over the year? Please share them….I need to know that there isn’t something awful in the water here that is making them act so coo-coo. Please tell me I am not alone in this weird chicken-ness?

Small House Homestead and chicken keeper, Donna.

Vanishing Landscapes – Red Horse Ranch, Fennville

Yesterday I had the privilege of feeding my horse friends at Red Horse Ranch. I volunteer there one evening a week so that I can be close to the horses and give them equine Reiki when the timing works.

Red on white snow falling USE

Red Horse Ranch in a raging but beautiful February snowstorm.

Almost a white out USE

It was so cold that I didn’t share Reiki the horses but I was able to spend a bit of time photographing the farmstead. Documenting old places, especially vanishing landscapes is an old love of mine. I have been doing this for more than 50 years now. Recording these old-style covered bridges, barns, factories, one-room schoolhouses, train stations, old neighborhood stores and more, these vintage structures draw me in and do not let me  go.

Inside barn looking out

The view from inside the “big barn” looking out.

While I once documented them in black and white film, I now use a digital camera to capture their beauty and create photo essays using computer software. The equipment is certainly different but the creative process is much the same.

Chicken coop from side  in snow USE jeg

Chipped paint, weather wood and snow flakes on the chicken coop.

Coop window close USE

There is just something about photographing barn red paint against white snow.


Coop and fence nice

The chicken coop in the landscape.

The cold simply vanishes when I am immersed in my craft with the camera in hand and my mind in sync. Photographs jump out at me in the tiniest of details from the barn latch to the blue-gray eyes of the barn cat.

Barn cat USE

The barn cat carefully watches me giving Reiki healing to J.B.

When I stood in the barn and look at the hay mound filled with bales of hay I am suddenly transported back to my grandparents Yankee Bank Barn on the Prairie Rhonde, in Schoolcraft, MI. For a moment I was teleported back my childhood and I was standing in the sunbeam watching the straw pieces floating down and around me. For a moment I smelled that unique odor of fresh baled hay. I haven’t thought of that day in years. Isn’t that interesting how a place, and a moment, can trigger a fifty-year-old memory?

Haymound close USE jpeg

The hayloft and tack center.

Red stilllife USE

A picturesque vignette of vintage wheelbarrow and chair.

BJ eating in barn USE jpeg

B.J. eating her dinner before her Reiki treatment.

These vanishing landscapes call to me and sing a song of a story of a slowly dying time. My grandparent’s barn is gone now but the good memories remain. 

Small House Homesteaders and Photographer, Donna

Field Trip to the Last Standing Beech Tree

I took a field trip this week to capture the fog and rain at Ely Lake Primitive Campground.

I walked the North Loop to the Beech Trail, a trail I have been walking now for fourteen years. I’ve walked that trail to visit and to document the last standing Beech tree.

Ely Lake white spacing jpeg w text

I call it The Grandfather Tree.

For me that tree is a metaphor for life and what we humans are doing to our environment…

I enjoy the quiet, the wildness and the peace I find there. Our Labrador Sassy loves to run and swim there. Ely Lake is magical place that I hope will be protected in the future from fracking.

Small House Homesteader, Donna