Dispersing of the Straw Bale Wind Block

This week I have been busy distributing the chickens straw bale wind block.

Chickens shack, hoops and garen USE

The straw bale wind block that collapsed after the winter snow.

Each fall we set up stacks of square-baled straw around our chicken coop and run with the goal of blocking some of the big winds we get here on the homestead. We live not far from Lake Michigan and we definitely get the results of a lot of lake related winds that we feel on our homestead.

Come spring I use these bales as mulch and distribute the wet straw around many plants and trees in the garden and the landscaped beds including our five-year-old baby pine trees.

Pine and staw in foreground-cart in rear

Baby White Pines replaced those that were cut down.

As organic material straw will eventually rot and turn into soil, amending the existing soil as they rot. The clumps of straw also hold in moisture from the spring rains which will benefit whatever growing things they are spread around.

Straw in the cart

Our garden cart full of straw on its way to be distributed.

This year we were also lucky to be able to be the recipients of three (or possibly four) truckloads of organic materials cut back from our community’s roadside program. These are wood chips, pine needles and other brown and green organic materials.

2016 pine pile USE

The big pile of organic mulch that needs hauling and spreading. 

The stars all alligned this spring. I simple stopped and talked to the guys who were cutting and offered our property as the free place to dump them and requested that they be dumped in our meadow. Because they usually have to pay to dump these materials and often we have to pay to buy them; so this was a win for us both.

It is certainly a blessing to have these organic materials to work with in our garden, yard and landscaping. Both the straw and the green cuttings will save us money, time and vehicle wear and tear. And having the mulch on site will benefit all the growing things from plants to shrubbery that we have work so hard to plant and maintain.

Nothing is wasted here on the homestead!

Small House Homesteader, Donna


Fall Garden Work Months Ahead

It was another big work day on the homestead this morning.

Pool shack new mulch USE FIRST

A clean and tidy bed after weeding and new bark chip mulch.

My newest garden helper came around 9:00 a.m. and together we put down a nice layer of bark chips and three bags of cedar mulch that had been given to me in the chicken run area. I am doing this in anticipation of the autumn rain and the resulting mud.

Mulch in cicken run USE VERT

Bark chips laid out around the chicken coop.

We cut back several perennial beds and added the same bark chip mulch so that we do not get disease in the beds from old dead foliage and so that Gene can more easily blow leaves out this coming November.

Cleaned up edge closer okay USE

I love the tidiness of the pool shack bed now. Now to keep the chickens out of it!

We transplanted a chestnut tree I grew from a nut I was given last fall and transplanted three burning bushes starts I potted up last spring. I had planted about a dozen chestnuts before the last freeze but only one was successful. The rest of the nuts unfortunately just rotted in their pot.

Chest nut on day panted USE

One years growth on our chestnut tree.

Gene worked on digging and pulling out the Sassafras trees that have been threatening to take over the forge perennial garden. He saved the roots for a friend who wants to use them to make bitters.

sassafras boarder USE

I love the Sassafras trees because they turn a lovely color in the fall.

I washed two loads of laundry and hung them out on the clothes line to dry. It was a beautiful fall day; sunny and 65 degrees. it was not a burden to be outside working but rather it was a pleasure.

Compost ins filled USE

The compost bins are getting full of clipped perennials.

We spent the afternoon sitting in the porch reading and relaxing! A rest time that was much needed for us both!

Burn bush in streaa circle USE

A two years old burning bush transplant.

Small House Homesteader, Donna


Another Load of Bark Chips Going Down

Sassy in truck bed on chips close USE

My ever-present and patient helper, Sassy

Putting down bark chips is an ongoing project for me on the Small House homestead.

Truck sassy buckets close

If only she could help shovel!

Every Monday Gene and I drive the 20 miles into town for our restorative yoga class, lunch with our yoga friends and to buy our groceries. Since we hardly leave the homestead any other day this is as much of a social event as it is a physical one.

Cart truck and barn USE

Each time we go to town we also pick up a load of bark chips from a friend father’s blueberry field who has graciously blessed us with them for free. I typically spend one day the next week unloading, hauling and spreading those bark chips. Today Gene worked on putting up the gutters on the pole barn for the two new rainwater containment totes, this was my bark chip spreading day.

VERT arborvitea

Bark chip bed around the arborvitae.

This is a laborious project as I shovel them into a 5 gallon bucket, filled our cart Vermont and then haul them to where ever I am spreading them. Our beloved Labrador Sassy is my constant companion in this effort.

Chips edge and tree USE

Edging the wooded garden with bark chips.

Today I worked on edge of the garden bed behind Gene’s blacksmith forge. These chips will help to make things look tidier as well as build better soil. And with our sandy and very lean, oak Savannah forest dirt, better soil is something we can always use here.

Country Garden magazine front

One of my top five favorite magazines.

I entered our homestead garden in the 2015 Country Garden contest this year and although we have not been chosen, I decided to act as if we might be! So I have working hard all summer, weeding and spreading chips as mulch. If we are chosen, I have a head start and we are not, well things will be in great shape here anyway…I consider this a win/win no matter what happens.

In case you are not familiar with this great quarterly magazine, About Country Gardens is an excellent resource for individuals who want to plant their own garden. Each issue is filled with planting diagrams, design ideas and beautiful photos. This insightful magazine helps every reader discover their green thumb.

The call for country garden reads like this…..

Enter the Country Gardens Magazine Garden Awards

Do you have a great country-style garden? Enter the Country Gardens Garden Awards contest for a chance to see your garden published.

We want to see your photos and hear the story behind your inspirational garden or garden room.


Only amateur gardeners are eligible for awards; participants cannot earn their living from gardening, landscaping, or interior design. Gardens that have received other national gardening honors or awards, or have been featured in a national magazine, are ineligible. Please retain an original copy of your complete entry for your records; materials will not be returned. Images from entries may be shared online.


Submissions must be received by September 30, 2014. Award winners will be selected by Country Gardens editors to be featured in a future issue.


Send us your name, address, and telephone number, as well as color photographs or color printouts of digital photos of your garden, a rough landscape plan, and a brief description of your garden or garden room.


GARDEN AWARDS, Country Gardens, Code: WEB, 1716 Locust St., Des Moines, IA 50309-3023

Now I know better not to count my chickens until they hatch, however with our rural five acre spread and approximately 2 ½ acres in gardens, two hand-built chicken coops and runs, my hand papermaking studio and Gene’s vintage blacksmith shop I thought we might just be a viable candidate for the “Best County Garden” category.

Maybe they will even start a new category called Best Homestead Garden! My theory has always been… if you don’t ask, you don’t get! Wish us luck!

Small house homesteader and gardener, Donna

Gardening with Heritage and Open Pollination Seeds

For the first time I planted all heritage type, open pollination seeds in our homesteads vegetable garden. What a “quick start” these seeds have given us. After not having rain for over two weeks we had 4” of rain last night and another inch ½ this morning. The garden is pretty well watered at last here at the Small House homestead!

Long view house in back USE FIRST

I ordered seeds this season from Mary’s Heirloom Seeds and Seed Treasures. This year I made it a priority to find and buying both heritage seeds and those that are open-pollination seeds. Our food growing plan is pretty simple – to plant what will grow here in our soil and in our short growing season!

What exactly is open pollinated? Mary from Mary’s Heirloom Seeds describes open-pollination as “As seeds that are simply pollinated by insects, birds, wind or other natural mechanism. The way nature intended. The seeds of open pollinated plants will produce new generations of those same plants.”

Pumpkin Seeds 6-14-15

Our vegetables are looking especially good already  – much to my surprise. Our seeds have only been in the ground two weeks they germinated very quickly and they are growing like weeds. Be it the temperature, the soil or the lack of water, our plants often get a slow start here but not this year. This winter I bought all open pollination, heritage seeds and boy have they taken off?

Shallow raise bed with beans up 6-14-15

It too soon to tell about the quality or amount of the fruits and the vegetables we will ultimately harvest from our garden this season but if the fast response of seed growth is any indication, my hopes are running pretty high right now. I’ve only picked off one beetle thus far too…

Runner beans up the trellis 6-14-15

This is the winning combination for our Zone 5b garden; simple shallow raised beds filled with well composted horse manure soil and planted with open pollinated Heritage seeds topped with bark chips mulch al la the Back to Eden Gardening method.  


Small House homesteader and gardener, 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.

2013 Xmas Card WITH  text

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!



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.


Our snug little homestead home early on.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

gate slightly open interesting jpeg

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.



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!

Gene Donna at Grill house 12113

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

Happy Holidays everyone. Sieze the moment!

Small House homesteader, Donna

Signs of Health and Wealth on our Homestead

It warmed up to 46 degree here at the homestead today so we took advantage of that warming trend to get a few lingering outside chores completed. Although the day is still gray and damp it is warm enough to be outside working. Even the chickens wanted to be out and about today.

Gen closing gate interestingview

Gene is adding the new gate he built from scratch to the south side of our vegetable garden.

Today Gene finished building the southern gate for our vegetable garden. We have been entering it from the north side but this second gate will give us a second option and be a bit more convenient. We will no longer have to walk through the chicken run in order to get into the garden, which will be an extra perk.

Chickens =logs-straw USE

The chicken in their run with stumps for playing on and straw bales to protect them from the westerly winds we have here.

I worked on shoveling and spreading our homemade composted since the snow on the compost pile has melted. This is an outside chore I always hope to get done in the fall so the compost has a chance to further break down and the nutrition and microorganisms can make their way into the roots of my perennials by spring.

Freckles USE

One of the “three amigos.”

We are still in the process of reorganizing the kitchen pantry but decided it was important enough to move to the outside chores to take advantage of the nicer weather.

Sassy watching chickens

Sassy comes over to investigate the chickens.

The chickens wanted out of the coop first thing this morning so they spent the day free ranging in their run and in the vegetable garden too. They are doing a fine job of digging up the weedy side of the garden where I hope to put our hoop house next summer. We bought 5 large metal hoops from a garden club for just $20.00 so that will be the beginning of our hoop house to allow us to extend our growing season even further. I am researching plans for hoop houses this winter.

Clover and babies close USE

Clover and babies in the vegetable garden.

I am grateful for this reprieve from winter, for the heath and strength to do the work we want to do and the time in which to do it. This makes me think if the old saying I’ve seen cross stitched onto throw pillows …”Health, wealth and the time to enjoy them both.”

In my opinion that’s the symbol of true wealth for a homesteader.

Small House Homestead, Donna

A Homesteader Can’t Plant too Many Trees

There is no one Arbor Day on our Homestead. We plant trees both spring and fall here.

This fall we planted five more 6 foot tall trees on our Small House property. Two are White Pines and three are Arborvitae. It seems like we are always planting one kind of tree or another. Mostly we plant them for screening from the busy roadway outside of our home but trees, as you know, give us so many more other benefits too.

East pines USE

These White Pines will help to screen noise, traffic and pollution from the roadway to our home.

It takes a White Pine approximately 75 years to grow to its mature height (75 ft.) and width (35-50 ft.).

Because we have lean, sandy, oak savanna forest soil here we work hard to amend our soil before we plant, sometimes as much as two years in advance. We typically add a lot of compost to the soil mix, either my own homemade compost or well-rotted horse manure compost we haul home from a friends horse farm. We top dress each tree with several inches of bark chips on top after it is planted and watered in.

Bark chips strip only USE

This is the strip of bark chips we readied over two years ago to help our soil along, pre-planting.

Evergreens Genes back USE

The row of arborvitae will help to screen the front of our home from the traffic on this two lane roadway.

I know that we won’t live to see these trees mature in our lifetime but this is one of the things we do on our homestead because we know in our hearts this action is the right thing to do. This is green living and right-action on behalf of our community.

 Four pines to east USE

Eventually these White Pines will grow to create a living screen.

Picket fence pines newly planted USE

This planting bed sits alongside of our gravel driveway and provides a barrier between out roadway and our home.

We plant trees for Mother Nature and the good of our earth community. Excuse me while I go out and water my new trees!

Blessings from The Small House Homestead.


Shrine of the Pines

I am of the belief that a homesteader can’t plant too many trees.

VERT new pines plantedjpeg

One of the new White Pines we planted last week. This sits in a bed of bark chips to help keep the evergreens moist and to help it get well established.

This fall we planted five more, 6 foot tall trees on our SW Michigan Small House homestead property. We are a Zone 5b here and between the heavy snowfall, the roaring winds off of nearby Lake Michigan and the browsing deer, pines seem to be the optimal evergreens for us here.

Four pines to east USE

The privacy border to the east of our property. Eventually these pines will screen our home from the Class A road in front of our home.

Two of the new evergreens are White Pines and three are Arborvitae, situated nearer to the front of our home We are testing out these arborvitae, knowing they are finicky and that the deer love to eat them. We will have to wrap them in burlap for the winter – another fall chore Gene is not too happy about that.

Evergreens Genes back USE

The newest privacy bed located in front of the Small House will help to provide a barrier between our front picture window and the busy roadway.

It seems like we are always planting one kind of tree or another here. Last year we planted 50 baby White Pines through the County Extension program (around $26.00 for 50 trees) and two years ago we planted another 5 six-foot tall White Pines.

Bark chips strip only USE

Two years ago we put down bark chips in our planned planting area to help to prepare the soil. 

Three arborvite-house-blueskky USE

The newly planted arborvitae in front of The Small House in mid-September.



Gene directs our friend who works the tractor digging the hole and then placing the dogwood tree in that hole. This is the first time we have had help planting using a tractor – so much quicker. Usually we use our backs and hands to plant trees!

Last year we also replaced a small native dogwood in our bird feeding bed too after our flowering cherry died from the high ground water flooding.


The new flowering dogwood in bloom.


A burlap wrapped ball of the dogwood tree just before adding the compost and dirt..

It takes a White Pine approximately 75 years to grow to its mature height (75 ft.) and width (35-50 ft.).


Baby pine plantedj peg

The baby pines purchased from the County extension.

Mostly we plant trees for privacy from the busy roadway outside of our home but trees, as you know, give us so many other benefits too.

I know that we won’t live to see these trees mature in our lifetime but this is one of the things we do on out homestead because we know it is the right thing to do. We plant trees for Mother Nature and the Earth.

While it is recommended that homesteaders plant fruit tree their first year, we lost all but two of our small fruit trees in the big 2009-20012 flooding. So we will be starting that project over again. Next year’s plan is to plant heritage fruit trees in our orchard. I’d like a couple of apples, a peach and a pear tree. Gene would like a couple of fig trees as well. 

I plan to be very careful about species selection choosing only trees that are both heritage proven (that need no spraying) disease and blight resistant and the tree types that are propagated do well in our soil and climate.  I am researching our options this winter.

Small House Homesteader (and tree planter) Donna