Small Houses’ Tiny Role in Preserving the Savanna Forest

We spent as much time outside as possible during our recent February thaw. The sunshine felt wonderful on my skin and the warm weather made a partial clean-up of the yard possible.

Oak tree close with chickens USE

Our small parcel of the Oak Savannas forest with compost bins in the distance.

When you live under the shelter of forty-seven White Oak trees you end up with a lot of sticks blown down in the yard that need to be picked up come spring. One record spring I collected twelve garden carts full of sticks and twigs!

Rhoide close comb backlit USE

One of our Rhodies enjoying her time in the forest edge.

So I am always happy to have the opportunity to get outside during the winter months and do a bit of pre-spring yard clean up.

Snowball close

Snowball the Bantam Cochin like all chickens loves to scratch in the leaves.

Have I recently  mentioned that our land was once part of the Oak Savanna Forest?

This italics piece below was written by the author of the Lillie House Blog. Lillie House is an urban permaculture garden in Kalamazoo, Michigan. You can see the post about the history of the savannah in its entirety at Lillie House : How We Save the Savannas

And most magnificent of all the ecosystems in the new Americas was the savannas. These large parcels of land were once common across the region where the Eastern Woodland receded into western prairie.Chickens in wood compost in background

Our chickens free ranging along the path into the forest.

Just as we call the prairies “grasslands,” these savannas were “flowerlands,” glorious with a great bounty of broadleaf plants that provide medicine, food and forage. These special ecosystems are the preferred environment of many species, the only place where some can thrive. No doubt it was also home to undiscovered, lost soil communities that we had not yet begun to understand when we brought with us a vast, yet tiny army of invisible conquistadors to colonize the kingdom under foot. 

Oak Savvanah with flowers underneath
 Photo credit: Lillie House Blog Spot.
Within ten years of “settlement” by Europeans, these ecosystems were transformed. The open woodlands filled in to thick forest, prairies and savannas turned to cane thickets and old field, and eventually forest. This once open, park-like continent transformed to just another dense European thicket, and the North American miracle was never to be seen again.


One of the remaining stands of native lupines in the State Game Area.

One large 50,000 acre parcel the Allegan State game Area was preserved by officials for its recreational use for campers, snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, horse trail riders and hunters and due to the prevalent native lupines that grow there. These beautiful lupines are the host plant for the protected Karner blue butterflies.


Spring in the forest with native Lupines providing the color.

The chickens had a blast being out of their run. They walked, scratch and pecked for hours every day.  We feel most comfortable supervising the chickens when they free range outside of their fenced in runs.

Rhodie head up studio in rear USE

The forest edge creates a lovely back-drop to our property as well as wind break.

I have tried to preserve the trees on our land and to plant native plantings as well as the many native Lupines as I could plant. I have maintained and played steward on this property as best that I can in the fifteen years we have lived here. We have work hard to preserve and protect this unique ecosystem and add to it as we can.

The weather report indicated that a big storm is headed our way later this week and predicting 5″ to 8″ of fresh snow. So I have been picking up as many sticks as I could and letting the chicken out for several hours a day. Apparently this lovely thaw is about to end!

Oh and the bluebird are coming back…we saw two males looking for their breeding territories earlier this week! I’ll keep you posted!

Small House homesteader, Donna

Walks with Sassy

We took Sassy to the State Game Area today for her daily run. She has been sick from the strong de-worming medication but in spite of that she still needs a short run to burn off her high energy level.

We took her into the Allegan Forest wilderness area to an area that had recent been cut and cleared. We were curious about what had been done and followed the pathway cut back by the big equipment. We are always keeping a watch out for potential fracking sites as well.

Pathway Sassy USE

Run Sassy run!

The Allegan State Area is a unique 50,000-acre state-owned ecosystem. That is a showcase for oak-pine barrens (also called oak-pine savanna.) This area offers a unique community of plants and animals adapted to life on the dry, sandy soils of this area. Allegan County also features lowland hardwood and oak-pine forests, wetlands, ponds and open fields and many of those are found within this area.

This amazing ecosystem is just 10 miles from our home and one of the top 5 reasons we moved here. Not only do we love to hike, fish, kayak and watch birds we believed that this free outdoor opportunity is integral to us in our retirement years. It doesn’t take any money to enjoy the wilderness… only time.

Termite log 1

A termite infested log is still a thing of natural beauty.

Today we explored a recent clear-cut area to see what was going on there. Then we visited nearby Lester Lake to check out the water height after the recent rainfall, and to see what birds were visiting on their migration. The day was warm and sunny and our walk was delightful.

Turkey track

A fresh turkey track caught my attention.

It’s always hard to take time away from the homestead for these walks but once we do, I am always glad for the time away and the beauty we experience.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Where Does the Gene to Grow Come From?

50th wedding celebration Donald and Mildred Maile jpeg

My grandparents and their five children. My mother is on the far left.

My great grandparents and grandparents, Donald and Mildred Maile farmed fulltime on the Prairie Rhonde (the former prairie) in Schoolcraft, Michigan. Their farm was called Mill Brook Farm.  They raised milk cows, sheep, chickens and crops as well as their five children there. While no one in my family seems to remember how many acres they owned or how many acres they farmed, my mother and her four siblings all grew up on that property.

It seems so sad to me that no one in this third generation of farmers wanted to continue the legacy and that they could not wait to get off the farm and move into the city but that was the way it was then. My grandparents retired, sold the farm home and had a big auction and moved into nearby town of Schoolcraft to a small home on Duncan Ave. the farm left our family at that time.

As it so often does the desire to farm slipped a generation and my cousin Tomee Maile and I inherited the gene to grow in our family. While our parents could not wait to get off the farm we dreamed instead of moving back to the land and growing our own food and keeping animals.

This is how the Small House Homestead began.


The Small House Homestead in the autumn.

When we move from our small city home to our current country property in the fall of 2000, I knew I wanted to grow our own food, keep chickens, have large dogs and spend as much time outdoors in the soil as I could. I didn’t know to call it homesteading then, I just knew what my soul yearned for.  It took the breakdown of a 27 year marriage and an eventual divorce to make me question my life and figure out what I wanted to do with what time I had remaining on this earth.

Our Courtship 1995-1996

Our courtship years.

While many homesteaders begin while they are young and full of energy, Gene and I waited until we were older. We had both had previous marriages, raised our families and had un-fulfilling corporate careers to make this retirement dream come true. We were ages 50 and 55, not your ideal age to start a homestead by the way!

We own a 5-acre corner lot of former oak savannah forest with lean sandy soil that nestles up against a hardwood forest near the 50,000 Allegan State Game Area. The game area and surrounding forested lands are a showcase for Oak Pine Barrens (also called oak pine savanna,) a unique community of plants, animals adapted to life on the dry, sandy soils of this area.  The land around us also features lowland hardwoods, oak pine forests, wetlands, ponds and open fields.


The lupine meadow in the Allegan State Game Area.

This land is a central focus for our life here as well as a place where we hunt, fish, hike, kayak, explore, photograph, bird watch and generally enjoy the beautiful wilderness areas we find here.


Gene and our furry kids, Sassy on the left and my Spirit on the right.

Not only is our county, Allegan County, the largest agricultural county in the state of Michigan, with 1,833 sq. miles of land this geographic area is a hotbed of Permaculture, gardening, yoga and outdoor enthusiasts with a holistic viewpoint  – as well as the more traditional farms, farmers and farmlands.

Yes, we do live an hour’s drive from the biggest nearby city with a modern hospital, feed store or mall. But the woods and the feed store and its offerings interests me much more than a mall any day! This is a great place to live in retirement with as much “entertainment” in retirement as the time we have to spend in it.

Where I once worked in the city in business, wore a business suit, nylons and heels every day that way of life was so unsatisfying to me. It was a scratching out a climbing the ladder of success way of life of status and money that just did not interest me all that much.  It was fast paced, stressful and demanding way of life that not only did not interest me for the long-run, it made me sick.

Donna High School Senior portrait

Myself at a much younger age.

I had been asking myself what was the purpose of life and of work. Was it simply a means of making a profit and accumulating wealth? What about happiness and right-livelihood and working to build community and nurturing the land? Were these not important values to me and how was I going to go about making them part of my life?

I also began to question how the land was being treated by those taking out all they could get vs. care-taking the land as stewards so that future generations could also receive the blessing of the good land.

As I processed all of this I realized that there were many answers I did not know but I trusted that they would come as I worked. I did not have all the answers but I knew without a doubt was that I wanted to engage in organic growing practices to improve our own health, the health of our grandchildren and the health of those whom we came into contact with.

That was enough to begin.

Small House Homesteaders, Donna