Can’t Grow Your Own? Buy Local!

We aren’t as sustainable as some homesteads here at the Small House. But what we can’t grow or produce we can buy from local growers. I’m a softie when it comes to eating my own chickens so this year I ordered them from a local farm.

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Cornish hens ready to take home for Sunday dinner!

Today we picked up our 18 organic pastured chickens that we ordered last August from a nearby chicken farm owned by friends, Blackberry Pine Farms.

Blackberry Pines Farm sign

The greeting sign at Blackberry Pines Farm

We took a tour of the farm today when we picked up our birds and I was pleased at how clean and orderly it is. Blackberry Pine Farms raises and sells chickens, turkeys and peafowl.

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White Pines line the driveway to the farm.

My friend Ann and I went in together on our order and I pre-ordered 18 Cornish hens between us. I made the arrangements, placed the order, picked up the processed chickens and we met today for lunch and a handled the pick-up. She drove down from Newaygo with her husband Terry and we sat on our three season’s porch with lemonade and hot tea and caught up.

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Gene and I spent the day with my high school friend and her husband Terry.

I wanted organic meat chickens in the freezer for the year and decided to test out Farm raised Cornish hens. My plan is to roast one chicken per month over the winter and to cook up a 9 lb. hen for the holidays.

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A cooler full of processed chickens on their way home to my freezer.

We had a nice visit on our sun porch and then drove into Fennville for lunch and to enjoy a bit of the annual Fennville Goose Festival.

Chicken Tractor

The chicken tractor ah la Joe Saladin.

We ate lunch as a great restaurant owned by another friend, Roots, and watched the small town parade go by our window. The Festival is the typical mix of food booths, bands, fire trucks, muscle cars, hay wagons carrying the local football team, the Goose Queen and King and so on. Our lunch that was made from locally sourced foods, was well prepared and tasty. And it was especially fun for the four of us to sit and chat and catch up what is for us, a very unusual day off.

The fall weather cooperated beautifully too; with blue skies and sunshine, warm breezes and lots of autumn color coming on in the trees and shrubs.

This day off was a rare country pleasure and a fine way to enjoy the autumn before the heavy snowfall arrives and prevents company visiting for another winter.

Small House homesteader, Donna

Picking and Processing Peaches

One of the best things about living in SW Michigan is the wonderful fruit grown here. We have orchards filled with fruit and in every direction you look. Blueberries, cherries, sweet and tart, luscious peaches, apples of every variety – yum!

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Sweet tasting peaches are the real reward of today’s peach picking event.

Since our peach trees are not producing yet we go to a local orchard and pick peaches nearly every year. Today we drove to and picked a bushel of Red Havens. Red Haven peaches were developed by Liberty Hyde Bailey just 17 miles from where we live in nearby South Haven, MI. They are the perfect peach for our weather, soil and USDA Zone.

Two trees in the orchard

Autumn clouds and a brisk wind made the picking perfect!

In less than 20 minutes we picked a bushel and headed home to process the first half of them that were ripe s and ready. Because pantry space is limited for us, I always freeze our peaches. Hubby and I tag team; I peel and cut and he adds the coconut sugar, lemon juice and seals the bags using our Food Saver.

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Red Haven peaches are perfect!

Freezing Peaches:

4 cups peaches

1 Tablespoons lemon juice

½ to ¾ cup sugar

Ziplock bag or Food Saver after squeezing out excess air

Zip and freeze

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Hubby picking in the orchard.

We are going to eat like kings this winter!

Small House homesteader, Donna

 

 

 

 

An Abundance of Organic Blueberries

A heartfelt thank you goes out to my friend and fellow foodie, Elaine Herbert of Yelton Manor Guest House www.yeltonmanor.com/ for ordering me 30 lbs. of organic blueberries this season. This kind gesture was the perfect answer to my need, especially this year.

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If you are ever in the South Haven, Michigan area and are looking for a “knock your sox off” bed and breakfast, be sure to contact Elaine, owner/Innkeeper. Gene and I stayed there one night on our belated honeymoon, 18 years ago using a gift certificate given to us by a group of my girlfriends. It was the perfect stay.

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I had planned on picking blueberries at our favorite U-pick Farm, Pleasant Hill Farm in Fennville, MI but a painful bacterial infection knocked the stuffing right out of me. I just did not have it in me to find the extra physical resources I would need to go out and pick blueberries myself this summer. We picked our strawberries at Pleasant Hill Farm this spring and you can read the details here:https://smallhousebigskyhomestead.wordpress.com/2015/06/12/strawberry-fie…e-beatles-song/

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Like so many others we love our blueberries year-round; using them in salads, our morning oatmeal and Cream of Rice as well as in crisps, baked good and plain from the bowl. Every year I buy and freeze more and more blueberries and still we always run out before the next season’s picking begins.

Blueberries are one of the best antioxidants available on the planet!

Thank you Elaine for coming to my rescue this year! You are a peach!!

Small House homesteader, Donna

 

A Time for Gratefulness on our Homestead

When I think of what was here and how far we have come since we move to the Small House property in 2000 I shake my head in wonderment and say a prayer of thanks at all we have accomplished in the past 14 years.

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I remember no driveways, no sidewalks, no fenced-in vegetable garden, no clothesline, no landscaping of any kind just grass and trees and lean, sandy and non-fertile oak savannah soil. The house trim was chipped and needed painting, this house had no eves troughs and an old roof.

There was no electricity to the pole barn and we added the blacksmith forge to the north end of the pole barn. And the inside of the house…oh my, it was definitely depressing. The inside of this Ranch home looked like the 1960’s with old crummy dark brown dog-hair-filled carpeting, harvest gold painted walls AND ceilings and old wallpaper everywhere. I didn’t have a digital camera then so I have few photographs of the homestead in those days.

Our home had previously been owned by a 70+-year-old couple in ill health and rooms were half done. Our laundry room had an ancient square water heater in it, harvest gold “place and press” tiles on the floor and wall-to-wall gray steel shelving filled with old cans of paint and household cleaners. This open is what I saw when I walked through our kitchen. UG!

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Then when the couple passed away, the property was left to their five children and sat empty for way to long. I always said we bought this place for the land knowing with time and energy I could make the house into about whatever I wanted and could afford.

Fourteen years later I am grateful to have a snug one-story house that I now love. It won’t make headlines with its 1970’s-1980’s decorating style and feel but its practical and pretty and I can live in it.

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Our snug little homestead home early on.

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As our garden beds mature.

Above all I am grateful to have the body and the health to make these many improvements and make our dream come true.

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Our back yard sidewalk and garden in the pre-flood years.

Then when I remember the high ground water year flooding it’s a miracle that we did not bail and sellout. Four consecutive springs of rain, rain and more rain and living in a marsh complete with mosquitoes and mud. Losing all of our garden soil we had worked hard to build up, losing many thousands of dollars of shrubs and trees and everything on the pole barn floor to the water and basically having to start all over yet again.

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The beauty and bounty of the garden as ecosystem for bugs and butterfly’s.

And the tole on my health…sigh. As a result of the longstanding water and mildew I had more than three years of upper repertory distress, necessitating my using inhalers and medicine for asthma and on major skin infection… one right after the other…It was a very rough few years.

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The bad years on our homestead. Flooded from 2008-2012.

What I am focusing on now it that its 2014 we have our new roof and it’s paid for in full. The driveway is newly resealed and the flowers gardens are on their way back. The vegetable gardens have newly built raise beds and the soil is fertile again thanks to the gifts of well-composted horse manure and bark chips shared with us by friends.

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The meadow garden in the fall when the ornamental grasses are in flower.

We’ve added the water totes that capture and contain water from the pole barn roof, we’ve redesigned and rebuilt the chicken coop and are now working on building the covered chicken run. More egg layers to arrive in the spring.

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The newly built chicken coop and dusting bed in the chicken run.

We have two freezers that are full of the bounty of our garden. Our home is now mold and mildew free and warm, the ditch system has been built to take the flow of water away from our property should the high water ever happen again. I certainly do not take the basics of life for granted here.

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Two views of our remodeled laundry room. My now gone Labrador, “Spirit” checks in with me. I miss her everyday!

We’ve had a few health blips that have challenged us but we are mostly in good health for our age. We still have a ways to go on the homestead to get it to where we want because a homestead, like a garden, is always a work in process. We need to plant more Heritage fruit trees but we have made some real headway on our property here. Rome was not built in a day and neither is an American homestead!

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Hubby and I at a special anniversary dinner a few years ago.

Happy Holidays everyone. Sieze the moment!

Small House homesteader, Donna

Compassion for an Injured Chick

Some readers who follow us regularly may remember the Great Chicken Escape a couple of weeks ago.

This is the follow-up to when we walked out to check on the chicks only to discover that Clover and three chicks of her five chicks were outside of the fenced in chicken pen. Of course as Murphy’s Law would have it, our Labrador Sassy was on her way to being walked and she rushed the chicken (a natural hunting instinct) and one three chicks flew into the woods in a panic.

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Freckles, the 4 month old Phoenix rooster, basking in the sunshine.

I was able to find two of them hunkered down in the leaves and pick them up and put them back into the coop. But Freckles was missing for over an hour. We put Sassy into the truck (the safest and closest containment area in a pinch) and we searched and searched.

After more than an hour of waking through greenbrier and downed logs and calling “chick chick chick” until I was hoarse, we were at the point of nearly giving up. Then I heard a “peep” and saw a bobbing chick walking out from behind the forge overhang where Freckles had apparently hidden between some items store there. As I shoed the chick back into the pen he flew right up into the pole barn window. It was getting dark and the window was black too and I think he thought it was the dark coop opening.

It was Freckles, a rooster. While I had hoped it was just panic and shock that was causing his odd behaviors, I believe he either injured his head or his wing. He was not able to fly backup into the coop and I had to lift him. He squawks loudly and tries to get away but he allows it.

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Freckles, on the right hand side of this photo, in his “before” injury days.

Even after a few recovery days he is just not the same. He can fly down and out of the coop but not back into it. He hesitates like he is afraid of crashing again. He eats but he holds back and separates himself from the rest of the brood and is the last to eat. He turns his back to the brood, stays a bit apart from the other and lags just a bit behind the others. His eyes a dull like he is not quite all there. I think we have a handicapped rooster now. Poor thing.

I’ve watched the pecking order of the brood shift too. Where once the two littlest chicks, Snowball and JoJo were the meekest and lowest in the pack, they have moved up notch. Freckles is now the low chicken on the block. He eats; he drinks and tags along to the communal bathing but does not join in.

This has definitely brought out my mothering instincts. So I am babying him just a bit. I make sure he gets his share of food and I left him in and out of the coop. I think he is physically “off” now and needs extra watching, extra care and help.  I imagine in a larger brood he would not make it but in his own small family and with my help, it seems everyone can adjust just a bit.

Who know that I would have such empathy and compassion for a chicken with “special needs?”

Sometimes things just fall into your lap that we don’t plan on. Sometimes there are signs and sometimes not. Freckles cannot speak, so I have to. This is in some ways like having a son that is far from perfect but is dearly love.

We are all less than perfect. We all have issues that make us different. Some of us limp, some of us can’t speak, spell or hear or even remember things the way we use to. But it doesn’t make us less worthy of love.

Freckles is just a chicken. On some farms a non-producing animal has to go. This time it is a chicken perhaps the next time a dog. The next time a young child who is the different one.

Sometimes things just fall in your lap. We each can choose to shriek in judgment or to respond in kindness and compassion.

Small House Homesteader and Chicken Keeper, Donna

 

Making Homemade Kahlua for Gifts

An ounce a day keeps the doctor away…..

I admit it. We’ve been in “vacation mode” over Thanksgiving weekend. I’m doing a bit of cooking too since it’s a holiday weekend and we do a few extra things to celebrate.

We usually don’t drink much here on our homestead. I’ll enjoy perhaps an occasional cold beer on a hot summer day or a glass of wine with dinner when entertaining.  And Gene never drinks after having hepatitis as a teenager while growing up in New York.

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Homemade Kahlua! Looks like I made enough for three years!

But around the holidays it nice to be able to offer a little something special to our guests so I make homemade Kahlua this time of year. It also makes a very thoughtful hostess gift as well!

It only takes five ingredients and Kahlua lasts forever. It is so flexible to use that I can offer it in hot coffee, cold on the rocks or with milk for a White Russian. Easy peasy!

I made a double batch of my homemade Kahua this year so I can take a small fancy bottle for a hostess gift and give a few away as a Christmas gift too.

Homemade Kahlua Recipe

2 quarts boiling water

7 cups granulated white sugar

1 cup instant coffee

1 quart 190 proof grain alcohol

Melt sugar in boiling water. Boil another quart of water and add 1 cup of instant coffee. Boil one minute and let it cool. Add 2 ounces of vanilla and 1 quart of 190 proof grain alcohol.

Now I plan to find some pretty bottles in which to contain the coffee based treat.

Enjoy a holiday toast on me!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Seed Saving at the Small House Homestead

This is the first year I have attempted to save my own garden seeds.

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A row of garden seeds in air tight jars sits on my window sill.

I bought my organic seeds from Territorial Seed Company, Oregon this spring and I was not sure I would have the time or energy to save seeds this year so I didn’t make a commitment one way or the other.

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One of the Territorial Seed Company catalogues.

But when fall was coming on, I began to think maybe I would just let some of the beans pods rest on the vine and dry out. Then on the day we pulled out the old beans vines we found a lot of pods that had been hiding underneath that were dry and full of seeds.

Then I found myself feeling inspired… and the race was on.

I saved five varieties this year; snap and dried beans. And tomorrow when my 5-year-old granddaughter comes to visit for the day I plan to show her how to open the dried pod, take out the beans and save some for next year.

I really want her to know where her food comes from.

I also saved some carrots for her to pull up from the ground too and well eat those for dinner.

This is an age-old experience, the elder passing on their knowledge to the next generation. I am proud to be a part of this lineage of teaching self-sufficiency.

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The Homesteads vegetable garden at its peak last summer.

If you want to read all about seed savings and the how-to’s this is a great site: http://www.howtosaveseeds.com/whysave.php

Should you like to contact the Territorial Seed Company you can call then toll-free at 800-626-0866. For a free catalog, you can go here: http://freebies.about.com/od/free-gardening-catalogs/p/free-territorial-seed-company-catalog.htm?utm_term=territorial%

I received nothing for this post. I am just a satisfied user!

Small House Homestead, Donna