Spring on the Small House Homestead – Photo Diary

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

HOR quince and bench studio USE

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

Forsythia and studio USE

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

Phlox and stones USE

Creeping phlox offers a splash of pale lavender and spreads.

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

Burning bush and daffodils barn

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

Violets and logs in garden USE

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.

Phlox and chartreause shribe behind porch USE

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.

Silver Lace Vine , trelllis, fence

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

Violets under digwood in bird bed

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

Freckles with persnality and Snowball USE

Freckles and Snowball out and about enjoying the sunshine.

Playhouse with climber

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

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

Bark Chips, Field Stones and Lupines, Oh My!

Yesterday we had a family graduation in town. Our “adopted” nephew Mathew graduated from his Christian high school and we were celebrating.

Group house in rer USE

Native lupines shine at the Small House Homestead

While we were in the area, I picked up my two special ordered flats of native Lupines from Hidden  Savannah Nursery. One of my favorite nurseries, this place specialized in native plants. My favorite kind!

The ideal would have been to come right home and plant like a banshee because rain was predicted for the following day but I was just too tired. I’d been up working in the garden and with the chicken since 5 a.m. and then on the road by noon. But I was up and planting by first light today and planted about half of my new plants in the ground before the rain began.

Lupine really close USE

A close up show the pea like quality of our native lupines.

You may recall my earlier posting “In Love with Lupines” when I explained how I started planting native lupines n our property in 2009 after testing 40 plants that I bought from the same nursery through the Allegan County Extension plant sale.

Lupines in Saburu trunk USE

Lupine and tomatoes fill the truck of my Subaru this weekend.

Showy, elongated clusters of pea like flowers that tops the 1 to 2 ft. stems, this native perennial features blue, pea-like flowers in an upright, elongated terminal cluster on an erect stem. The blooming period is from late spring to early summer and last for about a month.

Foreground in focus rear blurred USE

Lovely lupines are definitely the star of the native plantings in our cottage -style garden.

Lupines grow best in sandy soil, in the full sun where the tall grasses and shrubs are minimal.  It is best to plant them while dormant in the spring or the fall.  I plant them with the buds 1” deep below the soils surface and space about 1 foot apart. I also like to plant in grouping of three for interest when in bloom.

trowel perfect USE

I recently extended the original bed filled with three White Pines, stones and lupines.

This plant was once thought to deplete the mineral content from the soil but actually the plant enhances the soil fertility by fixing atmospheric nitrogen into a useful form by and fixing it into the soil. They bloom blue or purple from April through July, depending on your geographic area and USDA zone.

Their growing conditions are sun, part sun, dry to moist sandy soil with an acidic pH of 6.8to 7.2. Very good drainage is needed but the plants are adaptable once established. It is considered a water-wise plant so planting Lupines offer beauty with water conservation efforts as well.


bed and pole barn USE

This is the view that greets our guests and family as they pull into our pole barn driveway.

This plant attacks butterflies and hummingbirds and is the larval host for the Karen Blue butterfly that is a protected species. This plant is also of special value to native bees. And bumble bees.

This is propagated from dry treated seeds in the spring. Does not transplant well due to its long, tap-root. The lupine is tricky to propagate as the seeds must be scarified, inoculated and then needs moist stratification for 10 days. Soil should be inoculated before sowing the seeds.

Lupines in flat looking down USE

I buy my lupines in cells from a native plant propagator.

This is a plant has very few if any pest problems associated with it.

I live on the edge of a sandy oak savannah forest parcel called The Allegan Forest and I happen to have the right soil conditions for this plant. Because of stabilized sand dunes and power line clearance in sandy area this is becoming a rare and uncommon plant in many places. Lupines and leaves in the landscapeField stones, bark chips and lupines…oh my!

I have a dream of a front yard overflowing with gorgeous masses of purple lupines. Each year I add a flat or two to my garden and many seeds blow, re-seed and pop up throughout our property much to my delight.

4 panels lupines jpeg 2015 BEST joeg

Everybody loves lupines!

Small House homesteader and gardener, Donna

Small House Vegetable Garden is Now In the Ground!

With the exception of the organic tomato plants I am picking up this Saturday afternoon, I finished planting the seeds in the vegetable garden today. This is a relief. I still have some Sunflower and Cleome seeds I want to plant but it’s always “food first” at the Small House homestead.

It’s June 5th already and I feel like I am behind the 8-ball. Luckily today was cool and cloudy and around 60 degrees and I was up and out working in the garden by 6 a.m.  After yesterday’s 80+ degree heat I wanted to get a very early start on my outdoor chores.  I’m fine with getting up and out early but not so fine planting in the heat of a hot afternoon.

Watering vegetable garden USE

Watering in the seeds in the hope they will germinate quickly.

Then the morning turned out to be fairly cool, a pleasant surprise. I had the sprinkler going all day as well watering the newly planted apple trees, the vegetable seeds and the arborvitae we planted last fall.

I also took advantage of this nice cool day and baked an organic Amish chicken, organic sweet potatoes and steamed fresh green beans.

Amish chicken


Sweep potaoes

We like to eat our main meal at noon.

Gene was feeling under the weather today but he was able to add a “T” and a short hose as a second watering option on our pool shack pump. The red hose is set up for our garden watering and with the shorter green hose I can turn the dial and get water for the animals without un-hooking the red hose. This will even allow me to be able to fill the animal water buckets while a sprinkler is running. It’s a small thing but will just make morning chores, and thereby, my life so much easier.

T on the pool pimp USE

We water our garden and the animals from the pool shack well.

I also finished weeding and spreading bark chips under the old apple tree that was here when we bought this place.You may recall that all but two of the old apple trees died in the flood. This is why we are replanting a few fruit trees each year.

Weeds are gone

Weeding and adding new bark chips as mulch has been a big chore this week.

After our late lunch was over and the dishes done I spent an hour of this blog. Then it was past 4 p.m. so I made myself a cup of ginger tea and grabbed a good book and sat on the three season’s porch to enjoy what was left of the afternoon.

For me this is one of the benefits of rising early (5 a.m.) my 8-9 hour workday is done by 4 p.m.!

Small House 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 www.woodprairie.com 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 https://smallhousebigskyhomestead.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1497&action=edit

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

Saturday Projects on the Homestead

This morning Gene and I cleaned the house and then headed outdoors to work.Rolling up with coop in rear USE

Rolling up the plastic tarp that we use to solarize the weeds in the garden bed.

And while we were cleaning I washed the various parts of Sassy’s dog bed. Normally I dismantle and wash this bed at lese once a month but it’s a lot harder in the winter so I have been behind.

Dog bed parts

This is Sassy’s dog bed parts dismantled minus the solid base cushion that is already in the dryer.

By the time spring arrives the dog bed is shall we say rather aromatic! It’s a very cushy and comfortable Orvis dog bed that has been through two dogs thus far and has a lifetime guarantee. But it’s a big, big chore to wash it since it has so many large parts and requires five wash loads one right after another even in our commercial size washing machine.

Black tarp drying on fence

The tarp dries on the fence before storing.

And thank goodness for the blessing of our commercial size front loading washing machine. Before I owned this washing machine, I used to have to drive 20 miles into town every month for a laundromat size washer and spent $10.00 in quarters to wash this, plus dryer costs. Once when I was crunching the numbers over “should I get the regular size or the commercial size washer” I realized I paid for the extra difference/cost in size in just one year’s laundromat costs. In ten years of use the difference paid for the entire washing machine. That was a no brainer!

Close up of galvanized waterer

 We put the galvanizes waterer in the garden for chicken thirst.

 Because Sassy is a canine athlete; a hunting retriever that runs every day in the woods and marshes AND sleeps in our bed, she gets a shower once every two weeks at a minimum. And I wash her bed out once a month at home and hang the parts out to dry on the clothesline. She is a sweet, sweet companion and I love her but I really don’t’ like dog stink in my home!


Our granddaughter playing in Sassy’s dog bed a few years ago.

It is always satisfying for me to hang clothes out on the clothesline as I know I am saving on electricity and sending fewer negative carbons into the Earth’s atmosphere while harnessing the power of the sun and the wind.

We also look at the chickens sand pile in the hope the sand was dry enough to change out the coops litter but it was too wet for my liking. It likely needs another month or so of spring winds to dry that big pile out, I guess.  So instead we removed the large piece of black plastic we had on the garden bed solarizing the weeds that came as a result of the big flood of 2009-2012. We removed and dried the plastic and then directed the chicken into the area so they could scratch up the remaining grass and weeds and turn the soil. They will be working on this spot the net month or so until I can actually plant that area.

And we staked out the large triangle bed that will eventually hold our newly grafted apple and pear trees that will be planting later on this spring. These trees will replace those we lost in the big flooding several years ago.

East side triangle

This will be the large triangle bed where we plant the apple and pear trees.

I also picked some leaves out of the stone landscaping beds near our house. With 47 White Oak trees this is just the beginning of a very long project that I will be working on all spring and perhaps into the summer months.

Another fun day on the homestead for sure!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

I Discovered a New to Me Seed Potato Catalog

Have you seen the new Wood Prairie Farm catalog, the Maine potato catalog for 2015?

A photo illustration from this attractive well done seed catalog.

I’ve never heard of this catalog before and when it arrived in Saturday’s mail I was thrilled. It has nothing but USDA Organic and best of all NO Monsanto seed items or split gene products.

It’s published by a family owned farm business from Bridgewater, Maine. They maintain the highest of products standards which means growing and selling ONLY certified organic and they make a point of making it clear that no Monsanto seeds are involved.

It’s petite catalog, just 5 ½” X 8 ½” in size but it is full of the most lovely illustrations, quotes and options for gardeners and cooks. In fact, this little gem of a catalog reminds me of the Old Farmer’s Almanac –  there’s definitely an old Maine theme going on here for sure.


Wonderful potatoes and seed potatoes of many colors and varieties.   

I ordered a sampler of organic potatoes so I can test four different varieties (purple, red, yellow and brown) in our soil to see which has the most flavor and which grows best here lean sandy soil and our USDA Zone 5b garden. Then the next season I will order our favorites.

In addition to seed potatoes for gardeners this company also sells a nice selection of related products;

* Grains for Bakers and Cooks

* Organic Cover Crop Seeds

* Organic Vegetable Seeds for Gardeners

* Gourmet Potatoes for Cooks

* Specialized Fresh Organic Vegetables

* Gifts from Maine

I am not receiving anything for this commercial. I just like what I see and want to support it. If you would like to know more, go to their website at www.woodprairie.com or phone 1-800-829-9765.

Small House Homestead gardener, Donna

Ditch Flowers – From Dark Days to a Wildflower Bonanza


 Our home in the middle of a marsh or maybe it actually qualified as a small lake?

Those of you who have followed this blog or its predecessor, The Small House Under a Big Sky.wordpress.com might remember my post about our years of ground water flooding. It was a very stressful time for me in which after four years of serious flooding, I began to despair over ever having my old life back.


We lost our trees so that these cement drainage pipes could be put in to move the water away.

Not only did we lives in a marsh of mosquitoes for months at a time and had to wear full mosquitos gear (face nets, gloves, long pants and sleeves and knee-high boots) to go outside and walk our dogs. We lost thousands of dollars of perennials, shrubs, fruit trees, and personal belongings from our pole barn and the cement foundation in our barn due to flood pressure. (No, nothing is covered by insurance in high ground water flooding situations.)


The roadway beside our home. You can see why we had no choice in order to save our home!

And we had to pump out our crawl space, 24/7 for months at a time and someone had to be home at all times and that someone was often me. I was not sleeping and when I did drift off in exhaustion, I would wake at night after having nightmares of my home floating away in flood. I also became very sick from the high levels mold and mildew in our leaf mold mulch surround our homestead.  And we could not plant our vegetable garden for four springs and when we finally could, I found all of our good soil washed away. Please believe me when I say, it was a totally depressing period!


The flood at its peak covered our sidewalk, killed our crabapple tree and rotted hundred of daffodil bulbs planted below it.

Prior to the ditch being dug and our beloved 100-year-old trees cut down to make way for big equipment (I cried!) I had to dig up and pot hundreds of plants and keep them alive for two years until they could be replanted. Many, like the native deep-rooted purple lupines cannot be transplanted and all were lost. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Twenty-five-feet of our trees and shrubs had to be removed to make way for the ditching project and the heavy equipment it took to do the work.

My gardening style is loose, full and cottage like – no perfectly groomed rows of shrubs for me. I prefer native plants as pollinators because its better for the ecosystem and because they just live better with less work and less watering needed.


This is my wild  & flowing cottage gardening style next to the driveway of our 1950’s ranch style home.

Once the ditches were installed they were so barren and ugly I cried, again. I missed my majestic White Oak trees, dogwoods, lupines and my beautiful yard and garden. At that point I was willing to try anything to boost my spirits.


This is our wood lot where we had many native dogwood trees that bloom each spring. This tree line was so beautiful in the early spring but they are all gone now due to the counties easement area of 25 feet to make way for the ditches.

In desperation I began to throw wildflowers seeds into the ditch a section at a time. I have a lot of Brown Eyed Susan’s that I cut back in the fall so these became one of the primary seeds that I threw into the ditch. Any seeds that might take were thrown into the ditch several years running.

Two layers ditch flowers

 The Brown-Eyed Susan’s and wild carrots, goldenrod and others plants ablaze in our ditch.

This is the result of that Johnny Appleseed approach to making the ditch prettier!  After the darkest of days comes…a wildflower bonanza!

Small House Homestead and gardener, Donna

House -ditch Black Eyed Susans

It’s Been One of Those Weeks

When it rains it pours….

A stone hit the windshield of my Subaru last week Wednesday and it cracked. I drove the 45 miles to Holland on Friday to get it replaced. That was a day gone out of my week the week before Christmas but at least I had insurance that covered its replacement, right?

Sometime last week we had a computer glich that took away the photo header at the upper left hand side of this blog page. I had to recreate it and reposition it, so that was an unexpected project also.

On Sunday while printing off Christmas letters the HP Office Jet Pro quit after two letters. So now I drive again to Holland tomorrow to buy a new one. Normally I would wait until my normal monthly errand day but I really would like to get my personal holiday letters out before the new year.

I also need to pack up the old one to send it back to HP to receive credit on the warranty we bought. But how do you print out a mailing label when you can’t print? Duh!

I have a real thing about mechanical and electrical items that have been manufactured to break and be replaced. If I was in charge this is NOT how things would be made.

Panel green USE

Gene unloading repurposed roofing panels

On a positive note, we did make progress on the covered chicken run. The frame is partially built and we picked up the bartered roofing panels. We bartered “sweat equity” for the panels and some wood.

White Roof pieces on ground and wood

Corrugated roofing panels weighted down by wood and waiting to be washed.

Two more days until Christmas…hopefully I can get those letters printed off and in the mail soon.

Small House Homestead, 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