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

Glass Storm Door Replaced

Today we had the front storm door glass on my studio building replaced.

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In the meantime I learned that all storm doors are made of safety glass that will shatter if hit hard enough. Imagine how you could be hurt if you slipped on the ice and fell into a glass door and that glass broke into large shards. Glass doors are made this way to protect us from a fatal accident.

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We will never know for sure how this happened to our door but we think a stone was thrown from our lawn tractor and hit the glass because we found it shattered one morning late this fall.

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A phone call to our insurance company and seven week later we have a new glass door insert. In the meantime the pieces shattered in a zillion pieces and fell into our stone landscaping. That meant vacuuming out many tiny pieces of irregular shaped glass and then hauling over new pea gravel from the other side of our property and revamping the stone bed. That translated into five or six hours of hard physical labor.

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We worked with Glass Images out of Holland, MI. They came to measure, order and then replaced the glass insert. They did an excellent job for us.

After we cleaned up the glass pieces we put down a large vinyl tarp to keep the rest of the glass from falling out into the landscaping again. And on top of that we put large field stones to keep the tarp from blowing up in our high winds and sending glass pieces everywhere.

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This glass insert had to be a custom order and the main hold-up was that this door has mini blinds in between the glass. That also meant that it the insert to be rebuilt to match the back door, hence the long delay in replacing it.

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With property there is always something that needs to be repaired. Today we have a new door insert and that is one more chore is ticked off my winter to-do list.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Anna in the Laundry Room

I had a chicken in my laundry room over the holidays.

Poor Anna one of my four Rhode Island Reds who had a bad case of Bumblefoot in mid-December while she was also undergoing a very heavy molt. She was one sick chicken.

Bumblefoot is the term used to describe an infection on a chicken’s foot; it is referred to as “plantar pododermatitis” by medical professionals. Bumblefoot is characterized by swelling, sometimes redness and often a characteristic black or brown scab on the bottom of the foot.

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I noticed her distress in two ways; one when her legs and feet turned an out of character shade of pink and two when she was hanging out under the coop for hours at a time and not interacting with the other chickens. I knew something was wrong. So I checked out her feet and they were very swollen and she had two pencil eraser sized black dots under both of her feet. I diagnosed Bumblefeet. This was the first case of Bumblefoot in our flock.

I brought her inside tthe ouse and set up the dog kennel in our laundry room. I put leaves and pine shaving as litter in thekennel for her and gave her cat food cans of water, greens and layers feed. I quickly ordered Susan Burek’s Bumblefoot tincture from her Moonlight Mile Herb Farm  You can find her website here http://www.moonlightmileherbs.com/

I’ve used Susan’s herbal products before and have found them to be very effective. In fact, I follow her Poultry Natural Living  and Herbal Care group on facebook.  I have learned almost everything I know about using herbs for chickens from that.

According to the written instructions I gave Anna the Bumblefoot tincture internally using an eye dropper as well as putting on her feet bottom with a second eye dropper. This is definitely a two-person process; one to hold and one to administer the drops.

In the meantime I fed her extra protein in the form of my “high-test” feed (blackoiled sunflower seeds, layers feed and meal worms soaked overnight in olive oil that has steeped in herbs,) and cat food for building feathers and gave her a warm place to rest and heal. I made sure she had oyster shells as grit and plenty of fresh water.

I tried soaking her foot in a warm foot bath but failed as she would screech and jump right out of the pan. She wanted no part of that water even if warm and filled with Epson salts. While some chicken keepers cut out the infected plug out of the bottoms of their chicken’s feet in a kind of home surgery, I knew I was not up for that.

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I caught Anna’s infection early and still I was amazed at how quickly those black spots turned into a quarter size, red, puffy and an obviously painful infection. She let me knew that she was hurting. On sunny days I would take her outside in the warmer afternoon to dust, dig in the dirt and keep her acclimated to her flock.  Then it turned bitter cold around Christmas and those trips outside ended.

She was inside for about three weeks while healing. Once she began to feel better she adapted quickly to life inside and actually seemed to thrive in it. She loved to walk out of her kennel enclosure and walk around the laundry room and stand and watch her shadow in the glass of the front loading washer and dryer.

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As soon as she began to feel better she wanted to walk out into the kitchen and check out the dog water bowl and was always interested in  what I was cooking. I had to watch her very carefully to keep her from flying up and into whatever food I was prepping. She loves her greens the best and I swear she has a sixth sense when I am ripping kale. She would come running toward me and toward the kale and I would have to quickly shoo her back into the laundry room.

I had never before understood about chicken keepers having “House Chickens” but having seen how quickly Anna adapted to us, our dog Sassy and lots of food I now understand how this might happen. She quickly grew very content with three square meals a day without any other chicken competition and our company. She clucked softly at me and I talked back and we bonded very quickly.

These friendly chickens and their sweet behaviors never cease to amaze me.

Small House Big Sky Homesteader, Donna

Kitchen Shelves Showcase Pottery

It’s not that often that I get turned on by a new design idea. Mostly they are either out of my price range financially or are a design idea like gray walls, for instance, that would not cut it in our 6 months of gray sky Michigan. Or these new designs just don’t fit in my 60-year-old rambler.

But two maple wood floating shelves in my kitchen, now that’s an idea I can get into. And this gives me a way to utilize more wall space for showcasing my small pottery collection.

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Last year Gene and I found three large slabs of 2 1/4 inch thick maple wood sitting along the side of a nearby roadway put out with a free sign on them. Apparently someone redid their kitchen and put these gorgeous thick cutting board slabs out to find a new home. Of course we brought them home with us. I didn’t know then how I would use them but they were gorgeous maple wood and I knew at some point I would come up with an idea. I call these pick-ups “a roadside rescue.”

One board quickly became a chopping board on my kitchen island and the other two went into storage awaiting the perfect project.

Somewhere along the way I began to think about floating shelves. A talk with our handyman Frank, determined that he could rip these in half using his table saw and we could have the wood needed for two 23” long X 6” wide shelves to hang between our cupboards and our stove top .

So the search began for photographs of hanging shelves that fit our space and my design sensibilities.

It turned out that there are not sufficient wall studs to hang actual floating shelf on the desired wall. But Frank said I could have my shelves if I was willing to hang them using shelf brackets. Then the challenge began. I needed brackets that were 6 inches in length or shorter. I had at first thought I would find black wrought iron because of my black appliances but everything I found on ESTY Amazon.com were either too chunky or too large scale for my taste or space. For a while I thought about ordering hand-forged custom brackets made by a blacksmith (or waiting until Gene could make them in the forge) until I realized this whole project was getting way too pricy. I was looking at over $100.00 plus shipping.

Finally I found brackets I liked on the Joss & Main website that were fairly priced. Find that site here: www.jossandmain.com/ They are simple in design and yet strong enough to hold the heavy maple wood shelves plus whatever decor I decided to put on them.

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The brackets are painted a soft creamy white, look perfect with my subtle wallpaper as well as contrast nicely with the maple wood; I decide these brackets would be there on the wall and look attractive but not steal the show. And that would allow my collectibles to move to the foreground in interest.

These four cast iron brackets costs me just $34.89 and I received free shipping through a special holiday deal. The labor cost me $30.00 and the wood was free. Total cost: $64.89. Right up my alley of the “How to get creative on a tight budget plan.”

My board was cut in half and the length was cut to 22 inches. I used several coats of mineral oil on them to bring out the lovely maple wood grain. I also opted to leave the raw edge facing out ward to show the lovely grain and character of the rough cut wood.

I oiled the maple wood using mineral oil just like I do my cutting boards and island top.

The third cutting board ended up on my granite counter for my husband to use while he is chopping vegetables with me for our meals. I am calling these our “His & Her Cutting Boards” when Gene helps me to chop up vegetables for my AIP and his insulin resistance diets.

Now that is a match made in heaven!

Small House Big Sky Homestead, Donna

Front Loader Pedestal Makeover

As many of you know front loaders washing machines and dryers require quite a bit of bending downing to load and unload them and that is why they sell these very expensive platform pedestals for them. When I bought my units over 10 years ago these matching pedestals cost $300.00 each. I have no idea what they cost now.

A friend of mine had mold in her old front loading washing machine and got rid of it. She bought a new top loader washer and dryer. I was lucky enough to inherit her old pedestal. I saw this as an opportunity to not have to bend quite so far down to remove my clothes from the dryer. And she saw this as an opportunity to save this piece from the landfill. Another win-win!

After maneuvering the pedestal into place and I realized that it stuck out quite a bit further that both machines did before. The power coated metal pedestal didn’t look as smooth as I would have like so I set my thinking cap on for a way to camouflage it.

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Part of the wood base cut and screwed into place waiting to be painted. We also built and slid a top piece on to cover the metal base as well. 

When a not-so-pretty but highly functional pedestal base came our way for FREE we decided to take advantage of the windfall. Once it was in the my laundry room I then had to figure out a way to camouflage the unattractive metal. One day I was looking at our fireplace and realized the mantle cover up-piece was the exact answer I was seeking. All we had to do was build a kind of cabinet cover piece of wood, paint it and slip it over the offending pedestal and ta da, we now have a DYI pedestal cover!

Gene purchased the pine wood while in town one Monday and a friend helped us to cut it to size on his portable table saw one day when he came to Sunday dinner. I served Frank grilled salmon and chicken along with a fancy tossed salad…can you hear that refrain “I work for food!”

washer-and-dryer-from-angle-and-rugI primed the raw wood using Zinsser sealer and primer and then painted the frame pieces in a Benjamin More white semi-gloss trim paint to make it blend in nicely with the white washer and dryer. I had contemplated staining it in the maple wood tones to match my laundry room cabinets but I also realized that color matching pine with a maple finish was a time-consuming project I did not want to get involved in at that time.

I admit that the tight fitting appliancedwere a real pistol to get into the snug space between the existing two cabinets but with the help of our two friends and lot of jiggling we managed it. When I had my cupboards layout designed the kitchen designer asked me if I planned on having a pedestal installed and I said then, I did not. I wanted them of course but the added expense was pretty hard to justify.

I could however justify the expense of my commercial-size top-loading washing machine because prior to buying it I had been driving the 10 miles into town (and back) at least once a month to wash our bed quilt. Iwas alsomaking that drive  more often to wash seasonal items like my husband’s heavy hunting coats and outside work clothes. That drive, my time, plus the extra $10-$15.00 cash spent at the laundromat eeach month basically paid for the move up from the standard size machine to the commercial at home size washer.

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Anna our RIR photo bombs the photograph of the washer and dryer before we added the pedestal.

I love my front loading machines and have been very, very happy with them. I know from reading on-line articles that there was a class action suit on these machines due to mold that developed in the rubber seal located just inside the door. But I have been very careful from the beginning to carefully wipe out all of the moisture in the rubber seal after every wash and then to leave the door open to dry out thoroughly overnight. With this small extra effort, I’ve never had an issue of mold in my machine.

That small extra effort paid off big.

Small House Big Sky Homestead, Donna

Master Bedroom Refresh

I have been searching for a king size bedspread or comforter for our nearly ancient water-bed for months now. (My husband brought this waterbed to our marriage over 20 years ago and we still use it today!)

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The colors and weight of fabric in this King sized bed comforter is perfect for my needs. 

The Orvis quilt we bought just 4 years ago unfortunately ripped out and I quickly found out that my earth-tone palette of green, gold, rust and browns is no longer “in fashion.” And when colors are no longer in style this means you can’t find the fabric you seek no matter how long or how hard you search. I know as I have been looking for months and months; in stores and on-line.

My bedroom walls are painted in a Wythe Blue 143 paint by Benjamin Moore. See more here.https://www.benjaminmoore.com/en-us/colorcolor/color/…/wytheblue

I chose this historical, deep base color because I thought it was a very pretty and because I wanted a fairly dark room since I am a very light sleeper due to my wacky thyroid. Darkening the sleeping room is part of the sleep hygiene tricks those of us with autoimmune conditions follow.

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Our new matching curtain panels on our bedrooms corner window. This is a little sitting area I created using an old sewing rocker and chalk painted sewing table. 

Although my bedroom walls photograph more blue than green but they are actually a kind of deep sage green with gray undertones. I used the Wythe paint as my base coat and then washed a lovely golden/yellow paint over the base color. It really is lovely.

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A close up view of the wall paint color. 

I painted that same soft yellow/gold paint on my louvered closet doors and put down cream-colored carpet on the bed floor. I’ve discovered that it is almost impossible to find coordinating items for this color combination too. Our water-bed, dressers and armoire are each heavy and bulky to move so I am not up to repainting the walls either.

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This large armoire holds my dressier and work type clothing.

Yesterday at the Estate Sales Warehouse in Holland, MI, I finally hit the jackpot. For just $30.00 I found this King size comforter, three pillow shams and two matching drapery panels in this leafy pattern theme. And they are in my desired mix of woodsy colors. The slighter heavier weight of this older fabric is perfect, a bit heavier than the new ones and easily smooths out to a wrinkle free look. The reverse side is a tiny green on green check pattern that goes well with my wall paint color too. Hooray!

I could use either side of this comforter; the leaf theme patterned side or the tiny check side.

I also found a perfect quilt for just $8.00 for our guest bedroom with a white background, and the leaf green, rust colors of the spread and wall in that room as well. I folded and laid that quilt at the base of the guest bed as an accent piece.

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Our guest bedroom also got a mini reset with this lovely vintage quilt. 

In November after a long search, I had bought a comforter out of sheer desperation at Wal-Mart and was not happy about the colors (it was too icy blue) the make or the cheap fabric that lay in wrinkles on my bed no matter how hard I worked to spread them out. Nothing about that spread met my needs. I hated it and took it back for a refund. They just don’t make things like they used to!

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A closer view of this guest bedroom quilt shows the modernistic split circles of lime, rust and yellow. 

I am definitely a “frugal-ista” I love buying used or vintage goods. In fact, I actually prefer buying vintage. Yes, it is certainly about the savings and about saving the space in the landfill but it is also very much about the quality of the products and the way these older items wear and last.

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My original yellow sheer curtain panels pair well with the vintage leaf panels.

Give me an old cast iron pan over a new stainless steel pan any day. My 40-year-old cast iron skillets are as good as they day they were made and will likely out-live me.

Who cares if my colors are “out of fashion” right now, I do not. They are practical, work weell with the rest of my homes colors and best of all they do not show the dirt or dog hair our lifestyle brings. Give me a vintage bedspread over a new off-shore cheaply made model any day. This option is such an earth friendly alternative too.

It turned out that the two drapery panels were the exact length I needed and look as if they had been hemmed to the perfect length for our corner bedroom window!

Small House Big Sky Homestead, 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!

New Catmint Boarder Garden at the Small House Homestead

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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.

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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.

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 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.
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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?

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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

 

 

 

Spring on the Small House Homestead – Photo Diary

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

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

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

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Creeping phlox offers a splash of pale lavender and spreads.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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Freckles and Snowball out and about enjoying the sunshine.

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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