One of Those Piece Meal Days and Letting Go

Today was another catch up day having been out-of-town for three days last week.

VERT table set sling chairs

Our newly cleaned and sealed three season porch river rock floor.

I continued watering our dry garden beds and shrubbery and vacuumed the hard floor and the rugs. I also vacuumed the three-season’s porch after Gene and I finished the current round of inventorying household items and hauling them over to the studio building storage. For now that job is finished. Whew!

Handle shoes

Sautéed Garden Fresh Vegetables with Italian Bread Crumbs

My cooking efforts today centered on making chunky stove top applesauce from our apple trees, a garden vegetable stir fry (recipe below) that I served with a cold chicken salad made from the chicken breasts we grilled yesterday.

Summer squash close up

A close up view!

Gene continued working on digging the grass and weeds out of the gravel driveway – that is a huge, hot job. I know as I did it alone by myself for the past 15 years. because we do not ever use chemicals on our property we dig up the driveway weeds by hand. Crazy I know, but certainly ecological!

My energy level is still low this week from my head cold. The dripping and sneezing has stopped but my low energy remains. So I vowed to myself that I would spend some time today just sitting on the porch, reading, and bird watching and enjoying this breezy and sunny day. All too often I find that all we do is work from morning to-night and that is a real shame. I realize I am missing out on a lot of the beauty of this wonderful property and I am feeling bad about that.

HORS porch centered on food

We are ready to sit down to a nice home cooked meal on our clean porch.

I realized today that I love to pick flowers, weeds and grasses and create beautiful bouquets to decorate my home. But I have not done that once this summer. That is making me sad too.

Chicken sald with silverware USE

Chicken salad with all the fixins.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the letting go of unnecessary personal belongings and the freedom it brings. I have always collected vintage wares; so I had a lot of crocks, trivets, and pottery and nick knacks around my home. I have enjoyed the thrill of the chase, the find and then figuring out where to put my great find.

But I am changing. I no longer spend the gas driving around to sales. I no longer relish the time spent cleaning, dusting and moving things around. In fact, I am heading towards a cleaner more spartan look.

And because I am aging, I’ve come to realize that I do not want to leave the burden of sorting and distributing to my children or to my husband when I pass. They will have enough to deal with between a memorial and the selling of the homestead, vehicles, clothing and so on. This is a gift I can give to them now. I’ve decided to let go of more “things” which can free up more time and energy to be outdoors and enjoy the natural world. Too often I have found myself telling Gene, “You go ahead and run Sassy,” I have to stay home and vacuum the floor. No more!

Sautéed Garden Fresh Vegetables with Italian Bread Crumbs

  1. Put olive oil in pan.
  2. Slice up fresh yellow squash, red and green peppers, onions, kale, Swiss chard and green beans.
  3. Lightly sauté these vegetables in olive oil until tender using a low heat.
  4. Lightly grind black pepper over the vegetable.
  5. Add Italian bread crumbs on top for the last 10 minutes or so of cooking.
  6. Serve!

Note: This is the kind of dish that it doesn’t matter what vegetables you choose. Use what you have from your garden or in your fridge. I find this dish delicious and hardy no matter what goes into it.

Small House homesteader, Donna


The Power of Native Plants – Photo Diary

Pineallple Welcome sign USE        Welcome to our flower garden!

It’s been a very dry summer at the Small House Homestead; our lawn is parched browns and yet today our homestead is being blessed by a life-giving rain. Our thirsty garden and property is soaking up this lovely rain water while our water containment totes are gathering additional water for our autumn transplanting. Thank you Rain Gods!

Pool shack back and burning bish USE FIRST

Grasses, hosta’s and a non-native burning bush behind the pool shack.

SW Michigan is often droughty in late summer and it is for this very reason that I plan mostly native plants. One of the best thing about native plants and grasses is that once established they don’t need much additional water to bloom and continue to look pretty all season long.

VERT Green birdhouse and climber USE

Black Eyed Susan’s add a splash of color and seeds in the bird bed.

I have been watering our newly planted fruit trees every other day using a trickle hose to keep the roots wet but our grass has pretty much gone brown and dormant. It’s pretty ugly now but I know that this is temporary and our lawn will green up nice again when the autumn rain arrives.

Black eyed susans in front of playhouse USE

 Black eyed Susan’s in front of the meadow playhouse.

The blooming flowers pretty much make up for the unpleasant brown grass as the meadow and the blooms of the native plants are absolutely outstanding right now. It’s hard to imaging the grass being so ugly and the garden flowers being so beautiful but that’s the power of natives!

Pool fencing long shot with black Eye Susans

Ornamental grasses and native obscure the required metal chain link fence around the pool.

meadow edge from pool corner USE

Native plants, ornamental grasses and burn out lawn at the meadow.

North Tree line and Black eyed Susans

Some color peeks out at the hardwood forest tree line.

I leave some of our native flowers and ornamental grasses standing in the garden leaving the seeds for the song bird to  eat. And others, like our many brown eyed Susan’s, I let them stand until they have gone to seed. Then once the seed heads are dried and the seeds ready to fall out I cut off the seeds heads and stems and toss them into our ditch and other sunny areas where I want more plants to grow. Our brown eyed Susan’s are just the perfect native plant for easy seed spreading this way.

HORZ crabapple tree bed early a.m.A bed under the crabapple tree is filled with hosta’s, day lilies and Brown Eyed Susan’s.

I hope you enjoy this August Photo Diary of native plants and I hope that you too can bloom where you are planted!

Small House homesteader, Donna

A Perfect Early Summer Day

Today dawned sunny and cool and without the awful humidity of the past two weeks. What a blessing! I opened up the windows and turned on the window fan. It was lovely to have fresh air soaring through the homestead today.

RIR circling the food dish

We had a heavy rainstorm move thru our area last night dumping another 4.5” of rain on us. Our water containment totes are full to the brim for the second time this season, which is good, but my poor potted plants that decorate the front of my home and hide the ugly air conditioner are rotting. I pour out any standing water but I am still not successful in drying them out enough to really matter. Sigh. They were so pretty and doing so well.

Pole barn freshly mulched

It is a lovely day here in the homestead; breezy, sunny and warm with low humidity. A perfect early summer day.

Gene building coop 02 flag in background

What I accomplished today….

  1. Loaded and put down one truck load of bark chips. Weeded flower beds at the pole barn and added bark chip mulch to those beds.
  2. Picked-up and shoveled a truck load of well composted horse manure soil.
  3. I filled 15 grow bags and pots with soil and planted 15 heritage tomatoes. I have more tomatoes to plant but I am out of containers and ground.
  4. I did a large load of wash (including our water-bed sheets) and hung them on the line. By afternoon they were folded and put away.
  5. I washed a load of dishes and by afternoon emptied the dishwasher and put them away.
  6. I started searching for organic chicken feed that is not mash as the chickens seem to prefer pecking the seeds and so much mash is wasted.
  7. I also did some Internet research on Curcumin, recommended to us by an acupuncturist friend.
  8. Gene worked on the chicken coop extension completing the two sets of double doors, ran Sassy and helped me when asked.

Two grow bags aiwht tomatoes

Lots of projects getting done on the homestead this month as I know that the heat and humidity of July is coming, as well as my granddaughter!!

Load of wash on line

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Rainy Weekend and Spring Garden Photographs

It’s been a rainy weekend here on the homestead. But that’s okay with me as I know that our newly planted fruit trees, transplanted perennials and vegetable garden seeds all need this life-giving water to thrive. We had 3.1″ of rain in the last two days which will also helps our two water containment totes to fill back up as well.

Lupines stones nice USE

Native lupines in my white pine bed at the Small House pole barn driveway.

What do you do on a rainy weekend? We clean house!

Pines lupines fnce bed USE

This pine bed filled with lupines and catmint greets our friends and family.

Since taking photographs of cleaning house will be boring I will share spring garden photographs I have taken during the last couple of weeks.

Sunflower flag in pines USE

A colorful sunflower flag helps to brighten a gray sky week here.

This time of year we spend almost every waking minute working out-of-doors or with our animals so the house, unfortunately, often gets left behind. And recently with so much of my time and energy going towards the replacement of the porch roof and the insurance claim for the same room, cleaning time has been a precious commodity of late.

Pool shack May 2015 USE

The hostas are up at the pool shack – the ornamental grasses are starting to.

So I talk advantage of these days to do a thorough cleaning. And boy does this house need it right now!

OFFSET Daylilys oak bed USE

Scented day lilies and epimedium under a White Oak tree.

Today Gene will clean the bathrooms and kitchen and vacuum and mop the floors. I’ll feed the animals, change out the chicks litter and vacuum the bedroom carpets and our many area rugs and the fine tuning details he is likely to forget.  We will both also take the recycling to the compost station today and run the dog. Then I’ll be cooking up a storm.

VERT yellow iris forge trees USE

Light yellow iris’ in a bed under another White Oak tree.

Together we will get this job done, as partners as we always do everything. I am thankful for having Gene as my partner.

Japanese iris in our meadow.Japanese iris USE

Japanese iris in our meadow.

Karens lavender Japenes iris USE

This lavender iris is a pass-along plant from a gardening friend.

It always feels SO good to me to be in a very clean house.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

My Favorite Carrot – Merida Hybrid

I love this carrot!

Carrots close use

It is Merida Hybrid an overwintering type I bought from Territorial Seed Company in 2014 It is certified organic too (by Stellar Certification Services.)

The most favorite thing about them is that they overwinter really well here in SW Michigan lasting through our intense cold months and deep, deep snow falls. I’ve harvested two batches so far this season; one earlier this spring and a second picking today. I planted our first garden seeds of 2015 today and the carrots needed to come out of the soil to make room for the new.

The package says “240 days, This Nantes type with great bolt resistance produces sweet, bright orange carrots 1 to 1 ½ “ in diameter. Well suited for spring, summer and fall plantings.” I agree.This sampler packet was just $3.95 from Territorial Seeds Company, Cottage Grove, Oregon 514-942-9547.

1 gram samplers work out really well for us and this one packet was enough to feed the two of us through the summer and fall and early into 2015.

There is nothing like harvesting fresh grown carrots from my garden in May and June before the real gardening season even begins!

The carrots pictures in this photograph above over-wintered in our garden and were harvested today 5/28/5. I cooked cleaned, sliced them up for lunch and they were as sweet as ever.

Small House Homesteader, Donna


Photo Diary: Enjoying the Simple Life Today


Playing with the chicksMy almost two-week old Rhode Island Red chicks enjoying the out-of-doors.

We spent our day just enjoying the simple life today…playing with the chicks in the outside pen…

Playing in the grass USE


It's a bird..its a plane...oh no its sassy! Gene is smiling

Taking Sassy swimming at the SW Michigan Land Conservancy land, Wau-kee-nau…

Row of yellow waukeena

Enjoying the lovely warm and sunny day as well as the bright yellow and cheerful forsythia in full bloom…

Put my roadside rescue treasures up on the pool shack…


Photographing my violets in the garden path and picking out my flowers for our summer pots…

Patch of violets USE

Who can ask for more than a home centered life, beautiful sunny weather and spending it together.

Small House Big Sky Homesteader, Donna

Potato Planting Day at the Homestead

Today I planted our organic potatoes seeds.

Potatoes in ground USE

Organic seed potatoes going into the ground.

I had ordered a sampler set of seed potatoes from Wood Prairie Farm this past February to test what variety does best in our soil and conditions. Then I’ll know exactly what to order next season.

This years garden layout USE

This seasons garden layout plan.

I have been sprouting them in the dark warm closet in our laundry room the past two weeks and they have finally sprouted. You can order toll-free at 1-800-829-9765. They also have a help line at (207) 429-9765.

Sas USEsy the garden helper

Sassy the garden helper.

Wood Prairie farms is a family owned farm in Maine that grows and sells USDA certified organic potatoes and cover crops and other roots crops as well. Everything they sell is organic and GMO free. I wrote about them last winter on my blog and that detailed piece can be seen here

While I was planting our potatoes Gene was putting up the stakes and strings that will be our trellis for our climbing beans and peas this season. He also sucked up leaves and put them down as mulch around our shallow raised bed to hold the weeds down.

Gene putting up string for trellis USE

Up goes the stakes and string that will hold the climbing beans.

I decided to try the “Experimenters Special” sampler box that holds four different kinds of potatoes; All Blue, Elba, Dark Red Norland and Yukon Gem to test to see what does the best here in our soil and our USDA Zone 5b growing conditions.

10 Tips for The Organic Potato Patch

  1. Faithfully rotate garden crops. Never plant potatoes after another nightshade like tomatoes.
  2. Treat your garden to generous amounts of organic matter; cover crops , leaves, straw.
  3. Potatoes love fertility; barnyard manure is wonderful when composted or fully aged.
  4. Promote plant health with regular sprays of liquid seaweed and liquid fish.
  5. Plant the best certified seed available.
  6. Warm seed for a day or two or greensprout prior to planting.
  7. Cut seed tubers into blocky pieces containing at least two eyes.
  8. Plant shallow for fast emergence;1” deep in the north and 4” deep in the south.
  9. Hill soil around plants, 2-3 times beginning when they are 4 to 6” inches high.
  10. Keep well watered
  11. Handpick and control insects.
  12. Harvest anytime you desire after tubers reach marble size.

Last seasons beets and carrots USEWhile digging I found some lovely beets and carrots from last years garden. They made a tasty side dish for lunch today.

More photographs to come when the leaves and stems come out of the ground!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Beginning the Big Garden Clean Up

We have a lot of trees here on the homestead…lots… of… trees. We love our majestic White Oak trees not only for their immense grandeur and beauty and for the oxygen they give us but also for the shade they provide to us over our non-air conditioned home.

Fresh bark chips in rround tree bed USE

The bed around the crabapple tree is now cleaned out and fresh bark chips added.

But the downside to trees is that they also mean a ton of leaves and a lot of garden and yard clean up come spring (and fall too.). We started the big flower bed(s) clean-up project this week. My goal is to get this leaf pick-up work done before I begin to plant the vegetable garden. Some years I make that goal, some years I do not.

Front door area USE

Sidewalk to our front door and bed area to right was here when here we moved here. I would have created it differently!

Gene is into all things mechanical so this means, left blower, leaf suckers, lots of noise and long green electric cords. I’m a lot more low-tech. I usually just sit on my bottom on a foam pad, scooting along and cleaning beds out using my hands and putting the leaves into a 5-gallon plastic bucket. I do use our Cart Vermont wooden garden cart to cart haul them to the woods and put them on the trails. Not one bit of those leaves go to waste.

Planter box USE

Brick raised bed planters cleaned out for the season.

This year after I removed the leaves I also added bark chip mulch because our old mulch had pretty much turned into new soil. This is called the Back to Eden method of gardening, a practice I started some 15 years ago long before I ever heard of that method.

Cart in driveway USE

Cart and gear in driveway awaiting leaves.

Luckily I only have to add bark chips every few years but this is the year unfortunately.  So it’s going to be a big year of working in the garden…Thank goodness Gene finally quits his job at Menard’s on April 28, also his 70th birthday. We will begin to draw from his IRA to make up the gap that his pension and our social security do not fill. We will both be, finally… fully retired.

Traingle bed USE

Another view of our front door bed with my cement chickens.

He is now going to go to work for me!!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Rain Blessed Rain

We finally had a bit of rain on the homestead today. Not enough to be considered a real spring soaker but I figure some rain is better than none. Normally we are under water in the spring here but this year it has been very, very dry.

iRussian sage purple masses

Looking forward to this Russian Sage kind of beauty in our garden this fall.

I have been hand carrying water to perennials in the vegetable garden and a few climbing shrubs that are located under the house eve’s because our outdoor well is not up and running yet. We are not past the international frost date for sure and know that frost and or snow could happen anytime here in our Zone 5b garden.

Today I also planted a large Russian sage shrub given to me by a friend. She tore it out of her landscape because it was planted too close to her home, grew too big for her space and it was a spreader, she said. I happily planted it in our wildflower meadow where spreaders are always welcome!

Meadow in March

Our wildflower meadow in March with my studio in the background.

I generally prefer native plants but I am willing to make an exception in this case. This is a lovely shrub well suited for our soil, sun and cold conditions. It was very happy at her house which is located about 10 miles from us.

I was not familiar with this perennial plant so I did some on-line research and found to my delight that this is a sub-shrub that flowers and has an intense fragrance. The shrub grows on upright grayish white stems from 1 to 3 ft. long with deeply lobed and notched silvery gray leaves. In late autumn the Russian sage produces spires of small, tubular flowers of blue or lavender color. These spires may last up to two or three months. This shrub sounds perfect for us!!

Russian Sage

Thank you Wikipedia for this Russian Sage image!

I planted it in our wildflower meadow next to the walking path so that when we brush by it on our way into the woods we should be able to smell its pungent order. Clever thinking huh?

Russian Sage close

Another close up of a Russian sage flower. So pretty!

It felt so good to be out in the garden and have my hand in the dirt today.

One more funny story: My chickens were out in the raspberry bed free ranging this morning when it started to rain. I looked out to see what they were doing and they were milling around in circles looking like they were not sure what to do in the rain and the wind. I realize then that this was their first “rain experience.” And I also realized they needed to be taught to go back to their covered run in the rain. So I played chicken mom and took them back in and tucked them safely in under their covered run. I wonder if this is a lesson they will remember?

Stay tuned for many more gardening adventures to come.

Small House homesteader and gardener, Donna



Unwrapping the Arborvitae


Today my big outdoor project was to remove the burlap from the arborvitae. We put in these three evergreens last fall as part of our ongoing attempt to replace the 100-year-old White Oak Trees that had to come down as part of the flood extension ditch digging project.

Drying the burlap nthe fence USE

The giant roll of burlap drying on the garden fence.

I’m always trying to find a way to gain more privacy in front of our home and to create more of a sound barrier from the traffic that flies by in the summer months. Beauty wind break come into play here as well. Trees and evergreen are one way to do just that.

We planted them 8 to 10 feet apart because the plan is to eventually build a lattice type panel to fit in between each of the evergreens to create even more privacy.

Unwrapped in front of house USE

Arborvitae at the Small House Homestead on a cold March day.

The nursery we bought them from recommended that we wrap them in burlap for the winter months because we can at times get quite a bit of wind roaring down 109th right off of Lake Michigan. So between the heavy snow fall here, deer and the winds, we decided to protect our investment by wrapping them.

Wrapped close USE

Looking a little like ghosts the evergreens wrapped in burlap.

In case you are not familiar with arborvitae, they are a North American and eastern Asian evergreen coniferous tree of the cypress family. They are native to the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. They are hardy, require little maintenance, prefer a cool climate and alkaline soil.

An evergreen with scale-like leaves, arborvitae (Thuja) is a popular choice for hedges because of its tall, narrow growth habit. It can also be used as a focal point in a mixed border of shrubs and flowers and is frequently used in foundation plantings. They can range as high as 20 to 30 ft. tall and have a 12 ft. spread depending on the species.

Trees close unwrapped USE

Unwrapped and ready to face the spring.

I did my standard soil prep two years in advance using 6″ to 8″ of bark chips to break down the sod and to begin to amend the soil. I’ll dog out any weeds that may have come back and add more bark chips this June as well.

I actually preferred planting the larger White Pines which will get very large in size and provide an even great screening from the roadway but I have to be careful about planting easy-to-catch fire plants too close to my home. So this was a compromise.

Burlap in a bag

Stored in soccer mom Ziplock bags for the summer.

Today while Gene worked on the fencing project, I unwrapped the evergreens, dried the burlap on the fence and then rolled the burlap up for summer storage. I used two of a giant-size Ziplock bag meant to use with my large handmade paper canvas artwork because the size was just right. I think they were meant for soccer moms to hold balls in the back of the trunk of the minivan but they work great for large canvas’ of artwork too.

One more project checked off the busy spring to do list!

Small House Homestead and native gardener, Donna