Shifting Values into Actions

Curved sidewalk - trellis -trees USE

The view from our porch along the sidewalk I designed to the driveway.

A lot of what we do here on The Small House Homestead is about living the beliefs and values that we hold dear; Love of family, home, land, building and maintaining this small ecosystem for the birds, butterflies and other creatures, preserving the environment where we can and humane treatment of all people and animals. It is a purpose driven life.

Cast butterfly bath USE

A shallow bird bath used to provide water for butterflies and dragonflies.

In a very quiet way we live a near sustainable lifestyle as our small way of  campaigning for health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy.

Catmint across sidewalk USE

  Catmint softens the cement walkway.

Many of the day-to-day choices we make are about protecting ourselves, our environment and conserving our limited natural resources.

Chicken Fencing Area

An early view of what is now our vegetable garden and coop area.

On our 5-acres we have focused these past fifteen years on creating and protecting habitat, implementing organic gardening practices, building soil, capturing and reusing rainwater, recycling or repurposing what we can and buying less to keep them out of the waste stream. Each of these practices translates to using less energy to build them, less gasoline to transport them and less landfill land used for garbage when their useful life is done.

Butterfy weed no chainlink USE

Butterfly weeds are for the butterflies!

We choose non-toxic cleaning products, buy goods wholesale that come with no or less packaging and make green building choices when we can. We are not truly sustainable but we grow some of our food and keep chickens for eggs. What we cannot grow we buy locally and from socially responsible growers because we want to support them in their mutual practices.

Walking the plant!

Sweet and curious chickens are fun to watch.

We can’t change the world but we can change our world.

Totes abot 100 gallone

Our water containment system gathers water off the pole barn.

I’m sure that I won’t be the first to point out to you that money comes seriously into play in green building materials and green vehicles and on a limited income we haven’t always been able to make as many green choices as we wish we could. We know that while we strive for socially responsible actions and low impact living and we just do the best we can.

Catmint-trellis-garden gate USE

Welcome to our homestead!

Nontoxic paints are doable; a “green” linoleum floor throughout our home was possible and low-flow shower heads are in. We capture the rain water off of our pole barn roof and use it to water our shrubs and flowers. Vintage furniture has been refinished and painted with nontoxic paints, real river rock stone cover out hallway and three season porch. We use a lot of repurposed wood and gifted corrugated roofing materials in our various chicken coop projects.

Coop and run gate slightly open

Our mostly repurposed chicken coop.

Almost all of our landscaping shrubs was dug up hauled over in my garden cart and replanted on our property; no fossil fuels for shipping involved. Field stones and mulch were hauled in our truck from roadside and farmer field as we traveled to and from town, no middleman needed.

Gretas hostas and bird bath

Bird baths for the birds!

We made a conscious decision to keep many of the original materials in our home when we purchased it in 2000. We still use the living room drapes, the family room blinds and our bedroom shades. Yes, I would have loved to replace them but they still do their job and I would not put them in the landfill, so they remain. Old appliances were sold to a young family just starting out, old but serviceable carpet was taken by a man who keeps snakes and uses it for their bedding.

House and barn under the Oak Trees USE

 The 150-year-old White Oak Trees that shelter and cool our home.

Every spring we gather and use the rich horse manure from a friends  nearby farms and bring home the rich maple leaves from my sons yard to use as mulch in our garden. He saves a transfer fee and the leaves do not end up clogging a landfill. I have committed to using just one tank of gas per month…you get the picture.

Herb garden studio in distance USE

Our herb bed in the foreground and art studio in the background.

This is what a sustainable lifestyle looks like. I can’t live off grid but I do the best I can. That all anyone can do.

Additional Resources:

Great Green Projects

Green Home Improvement; 65 Projects That Will Cut Utility Bills, Protect Your Health & Help the Environment a book by Daniel. D. Chiras

US Green Building Council

Happy Day to Thee USE

A happy day to thee!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Taking Advantage of the Short Thaw

Walkway lined w grasses

These grasses were cut down this weekend to complete our fall garden chores.

I was up with the chickens this morning and washed a load of perma-press clothing, fed the chickens, posted a story on our blog about our homestead and baked a black raspberry crisp to have with our lunch today. The crisp is a special treat for my husband for our 18th anniversary that we celebrated on November 30th. In addition to making him happy, there is a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that these tasty berries are our own black raspberries from our garden patch that I picked and froze last summer.

Pool house east side and grasses jpeg good

A December snapshot after the grasses have been cut down at the pool shack.

Gene shoveled the driveway while I cleaned out the chicken coop and began our lunch. I am making Alaskan salmon patties to have with left over sweet potatoes and a tossed salad today. Gene popped Sassy in the truck for her run and combined a trip to the recycle stations while I swept the floors. Our plan is to get to work on the outdoor project this afternoon that was delayed due to the snow.

Gene trimming garden cart

Taking advantage of the snowmelt to cut back the ornamental grasses.

With winter coming on so early this year combined with our two-week long get-away trips we did not finish all of the outdoor garden work. So today when the weatherman predicted a 30 to 40 degree warm up with sunshine we decided we had better get right on cutting down the last of the ornamental grasses.

Pool shack row of grasses cut down USE jpeg

The side garden at our simple and basic farm-stead type swimming pool.

I know some gardeners leave the grasses up all winter for interest and for the birds to eat their seeds but over the years we have found it works best for us to cut ours down in the fall. The songbirds have plenty to eat at our year-round bird bed & breakfast bar!

cart in front of wire bin USE

This is our big compost bin where we toss the tougher grasses to compost. They often take two years to break down. Our Vermont Cart is indispensible for such garden clean up projects.

Here in the land of 6 ft. snowfall the grasses tend to get beat down anyway from the heavy snow fall. While I am more of a cut them down with your hands kind of person, Gene prefers to saw them off with the electric hedge trimmer.  It’s a guy thing! He wraps them in a rope, saws the canes off and I toss them into the Vermont Cart and haul them off to the larger compost bin.

Chickens =logs-straw USE

The chickens free ranging in their fenced in pen.

I let the chickens out to free range and we began the garden project.

Chunk of grass stones in frnt USE

Micanthensis Sinsethisisa favorite type of ornamental grass.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Don’t Bag Those Leaves, Put Them to Use!

When Gene said to me last week, ‘Maybe I’d better rake those leaves out of the chicken run too?’

I replied, ‘No way, leave them, please.’

HORZ coop under tree barn in background

The chicken coop (brown with white corrugated roof) sits between the raspberry bed and the pole barn under the White Oak shade tree.

We started out with weedy moved grass in the pen this spring before we adopted our small chicken family. There is nothing wrong with grass in the pen of course, but I knew at some point that after a few months of scratching that grass would soon become mud. I also knew that because our pen is located under a giant oak tree for shade to try to keep the pen emptied of leaves would be fruitless. So then we decided to use leaves for the chicken pen “flooring.”

Barn-shack-deepsky-trees USE

This view gives you an idea of our large White Oak trees and you can imagine the amount of leaves we have each fall!

With 47 large White Oak trees on our property, using our plentiful leaves is so much more economical than buying shavings and so much less work than keeping the leaves raked up and out of the pen. The chickens also love to jump in and scratch around in these leaves too.

Gene on tractor behind pool shack

We pick up the leaves from our property using our lawn tractor and leaf pick up attachment.

Not only does the leaves cover up the chicken poop mess and it keeps their little feet nice and clean too.

Clover-leaves in run

Momma Clover and the chicklets scratching in the oak leaves.

With the chickens continual scratching eventually those leaves and that poo will turn into composed soil and when that day arrives we will scoop that compost out and use it on the garden to grow some great vegetables. The rest of our many leaves go on the woods paths, under the White Pines as mulch, in the vegetable garden pathway and they are also used to create a weed free, border around our property.

Every leaf here is put to good use!

Small House Homesteader, Donna





Details of Our Organic Chicken Feed

If you have been following the big chicken adventure on the Small House Homestead you know I’ve been researching the most nutritional feed for our new chicken friends. And because you are what you eat…and I will be eating their eggs…I know I need to balance the cost of feed from the feed store and chicken food I can grow or glean myself.

Entire feed bag USE

A fifty pound bag of Natures Grown Organics Quality Feeds.

I choose Organic Layer feed from my feed store that cost (gulp!) $26.70 per 50 lb. bag. I did consider making my own organic feed but when I discovered that this feed was available to me, I decided to give it a try. I knew from my research that 16% to 20% protein was important and this feed has 16% protein.

Organic chicken feed close USE

The chicken feed close up.

I am not an agent or employee but just a user that is happy to have this option. For those of you who might be interested in this product, here are the details:





Crude Protein, Not less than……………………………………………………………….16.0%

Lysine, Not less than………………………………………………………………………….0.75%

Methionine, Not less than……………………………………………………………………0.25%

Crude Fat, Not less than……………………………………………………………………….5.0%

Crude Fiber, Not more than ………………………………………………………………….5.0%

Calcium, (Ca), Not less than………………………………………………………………….3.5%

Calcium, (Ca), Not more than………………………………………………………………..4.0%

Phosphorus (P), Not less than……………………………………………………………..0.50%

Salt (NaCI), Not less than……………………………………………………………………..0.3%

Salt (NaCI), Not more than……………………………………………………………………0.8%


Organic Corn, Organic Soy, Organic Barley, Organic Oats, Organic Wheat Midds, Organic Flax, DL Methionine, Calcium Carbonate, Salt, Monocalcium Phosphate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Ferrous Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Zinc Oxide, Ethylenediamine Dihydriodide, Sodium Selenite, Folic Acid, Copper Sulfate, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin A Supplement, Choline Chloride, Niacin, Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride,Thiamine, Iron Oxide, Menadione Dimethylpyrimidinol Bisulfite, Zinc Methionine Complex.


Organic Layer 16% is generally recommended for feeding to mature laying hens (50-80 weeks of age). May be used during the entire production cycle. Do not provide additional grain or free-choice calcium source.

Provide fresh, clean water at all times.

Manufactured By:


405 S. MAIN STREET, Westby WI 54667

Certified Organic by Midwest Organic Services Association

As you can see, this brand of animal feed is formulated to exacting standards using the finest organic local grains, many provided by the members of the western Wisconsin coop. No synthetic fertilizers or pesticides are used in growing the grain sold by this company.

I know that I can buy cheaper feed than this but I prefer to feed my girls a high quality feed with less filler and supplement when I can for a balanced diet. I believe that feeding my chickens in a healthy way will come through in both the eggs I eat as well as in  healthier chickens.

Feed in new bin  USE

100 pounds of organic feed in the new bin.

I will also supplement with kitchen scraps, crushed acorns, sunflower seeds, green fodder, worms from our compost pile and gleaned apples, pears and more.

Acorns in bowl

Gleaned acorns will provide a lot of protein to the chickens this winter.

Apples in bird bath jpeg

Gleaned apple will become chicken snacks!

Today I picked field corn (for the squirrels and songbirds) and sorghum for the chickens.

Corn 2 rows USE jpeg

Field corn lying on the compost bins.

Corn husk in compost jpeg

Corn shucks in the compost bins.

If you are not familiar with sorghum it is a genius of grass that is raised for grain and fodder (feed.) The plants are cultivated in warm climates worldwide. Sorghum is in the subfamily Panicoideae and the tribe Andropogoneae (the tribe of big blew stem and sugarcane. The pioneers used sorghum to make molasses.

Sorghum in bucket USE

Fresh picked sorghum to test it as a chicken feed.

In commercial chicken feeding sorghum is the second most used grain for commercial growers of turkeys, broilers and egg layers. The fat content of grain sorghum is slightly lower when compared to corn.

When I picked the sorghum seed heads today I made sure the heads contained dry, brown seeds. This grin has small glossy kernels that I intend to strip from the panicle and mix it in their scratch. I’ve read that it is easily digested and a good source of B carotene that will help to make the egg yolks nice and yellow.

If you should desire to learn more about making your own chicken feed by growing your own grains , I recommend the following;

Small House Homestead and chicken keeper, Donna





Divide,Transplant, Broadcast – a Fall Chore

Fall is busy time here in my SW Michigan garden. This week I started my autumn dividing, transplanting and cutting back chores. From now on until the first snowfall I’ll be out in the garden cleaning up most everyday.

VERT sidewalk-catmints-flagjpge

These catmint are beautiful draping over the sidewalk but not practical for walking to and from our home from our gravel driveway.

I start with cutting back of old seeds heads, leaves and generally anything that is going to die back in the cold. Everything organic is tossed into the compost bin to be turned into “black gold.” Before the snowfall this compost will be placed around my perennials to give them a nutritional boost.

Bins from back open ended

Our compost bin system.

The seed heads of the Brown Eyed Susan’s and Black Eyed Susan’s will be tossed in the ditch and along the woods edge in order to encourage more plants to grow in selected areas. Some plants will be left standing to feed the birds throughout the fall and winter.

Turn around after cut back USE

In the early fall I cut back some of the tall spent perennials cleaning up the beds slightly. This is our turn-round bed which greets our visitors when they pull into our gravel driveway an walk under the lattice trellis and towards our three-season porch entrance. 

One specific chore I tackled this fall was the potting up of black raspberry babies that popped up all over my garden and yard. They will be fertilized, wat ered and nurtured and eventually be replanted back in the areas where I want them or given away to friends.

stone edge-birdbath-sign USE

In early September out comes the fall flags for a touch of autumn color.

To plant the black raspberry canes I recycled black, plastic, nursery pots that I had on hand. My soil mix is a base of well composted horse manure soil with a layer of bark chips on top to hold in the moisture. This is the soil combo that is time-tested to work best for me here in my Zone 5b garden with its lean, sandy oak savannah soil.

Ditch flowers pole barn USE

Brown Eyes Susan’s fill our ditch and meadow area in front of our pole barn. Last fall I just threw a bunch of cut down flowers into the ditch and hoped for the best. This worked even better than I had hope for! 

Some of these plants will end up in the ground before winter but some will be tucked up on the north side of my studio building to overwinter another system I have used previously that works well here. Everything will be well watered-in and will be carefully watched and watered throughout the next couple of months to give them a solid start.

House -ditch Black Eyed Susans

The foreground of this photograph shows the colorful wildflowers that grow along our property line. You can tell I like a loose, country garden style look! Our 60-year-old ranch-style home is in the rear of this photo.

My Strategy This Year:

  1. I dug up and potted black raspberry starts that popped up all over my vegetable garden.
  2. I dug up and replanted about a dozen or so catmint herbs from overgrown catmint plant that got so big that we were no longer able to walk down the sidewalk.
  3. I cut back the seed heads of the Brown Eyed Susan plants and broadcasted them (tossed them into!) our ditches and alongside of the road and the woods edge so the seeds will flowers in the spring. I had great success from this system last year.
  4. I’ll do the same with Black Eyed Susan seeds and the Cup Plants as well.

I get a big kick out of making more plants without spending any money.

Thanks for reading! Donna at The Small House Homestead

The Heart of this Homestead

At the heart of this homestead is our vegetable garden.

Two beds cloase pool house in rear USE

I built shallow raised beds using logs from the woods and our woodpile. I filled our beds with well composted horse manure and then topped off with bark chips as mulch and weed prevention.

The vegetable garden is where I spend the bulk of my summer months. I am either building a new raised bed, weeding, hauling and dumping composted horse manure, stirring our own homemade compost, planting, harvesting or eating the organic vegetables I grow.

Bins from back open ended

Gene first built our six sectioned compost bin system using free wood pallets and green metal “T” posts.

I am working toward growing and producing as much of our own food as possible. When we first started, I asked myself many of these same questions. Today I would like to share some of the reasons that we’ve chosen to make the commitment to grown our own food, even though, at age 64, it is not always easy at times.

Wire bins entire

Later we needed additional composting space so we added this large wire fenced-in compost bin for larger chunks of organic material. this is where we toss ornamental grasses, thick stemmed plants etc.

Awareness of food quality, pesticides and additives is growing among the general public. When you grow your own food, you have complete control of what the animals are fed, what goes into the soil, and what is sprayed on your crops.

Tomatoes in bowl USE

Today’s harvest of organic tomatoes.

When you grow your own vegetables there is no more guessing or wondering what side effects pesticides or food additives will have on you and your family.

Diaganal tomatoes

This year I am testing growing tomatoes in grow bags in just horse manure compost soil.

I believe it’s more affordable to grow my own than to purchase all my organic produce. Its quite good exercise. I also like to show my granddaughter where her food comes from.


the early days of our bare root strawberries in our raised cedar bed mulched with bark chips.

There is also a great deal of satisfaction in growing one’s own healthy food. And the taste of fresh picked vegetables…oh la la – nothing else compares!

Beans and cukes USE

Today’s harvest of snap bean and cukes.

Living and gardening in SW Michigan can be ‘iffy’ proposition. With our lean Oak Savannah sandy soil heavy amending of our soil is a given. We use almost anything organic we can get our hands on; grass clippings, kitchen scraps, weeds, leaves, manure, bark chips, straw and more. With compost and mulch our garden is a source of much of our summer food. I make raw salads and use these vegetables that I turn into casseroles, sauces, stews, soups, Quiche and much more.

My garden staples include; spinach, chard, kale, snow peas, snap beans, tomatoes and squashes. What I cannot grow I purchase from the farmers market or local farmers.

I like being reliant on my garden for my food. I like walking out to the garden each day and deciding what to have for dinner based on what is fresh and ready to be picked.

Yes, it’s a lot of hard physical labor work but I believe that the garden is worth it. I also believe in voting with my pocketbook and I believe in supporting our local farms. Supporting organic farming is support for small business and job creation in my own community.

Donna at the Small House Homestead