Whole Lot of Chicken Coop Prep Going on

This week we are in full swing of getting the chicken coop, run and our eight birds ready for the coming winter.

Two Rhoides on start cute

Jumping up on the straw bales is a fun activity for the chickens.

We raked out the old oak leaf litter in the enclosed run and added a 3” layer of freshly fallen, dry leaves. We added them in the open run area as well as in the enclosed run area. These leaves plus adding bark chips as needed will help to prevent a lot of mud from accumulating in the run when the fall rains begin and the eventual winter snow melt.


We are in the process of tarping our two chicken coops and covered run.

We put down areas of “sand piles” where the girls can scratch, peck and eat the sand as needed.

Straw buffer close

Bales of hay provide a wind and snow barrier around our coops.

As I clean out the old vines and vegetable from the garden, I tossed any interesting food items into the chicken run; sunflower heads, small tomatoes, green bean vines and basil stems. Our chickens pick, scratch and eat most everything I throw in there and they are happy to have these snacks as well as the constant stimulation.

Single Rhodies on straw bale USE

It’s so much fun to jump up on the hay and scratch and peck!

Large plastic tarps have been placed over the coop and run roof to prevent even the smallest of water leaks from coming inside. The plastic storms on the outside of the coop are going up ever so slowly, beginning with the west-facing side where the strongest winds blow inland off of Lake Michigan. Soon the pink Styrofoam insulation panels will be positioned in the top of both coop roofs to help hold in a bit more heat this winter.

Rhodie run and barey frame USE

The wooden frame protects the newly planted barley seeds until they begin to grow.

We have picked up the two loads of hay bales from a local farm. These are stacked on the outside of the run as another layer of wind protection. They also help to create buffer zone to provide an area where the snow is blocked and a narrow area for me and the chickens to walk around. This narrow pathway allows me to be able to get into both side of the coop for cleaning, filling of waters and more chicken chores. Our truck holds eight bales at once so we typically make several trips to a local hay farm for the hay we need. And we run Sassy in the Todd Farm State Game area on those same trips.

Gene starw at pole barn USE

Bales of hay being thrown over the fence and into the run. Watch out girls!

We set up the heated dog bowl getting them plugged in as well as the drop lights we use in the coop for the long winter days when chickens are stuck inside the coop for hours at a time. This year the coop lights and heated water bowls got new and safer electrical cord that are lit at the end. This way I can tell at a glance if they are on and working properly. The summer-use rubber watering pans have been washed out, dried and stored for the winter.

Barley green and frame USE

Freshly sprouted barley seeds provide live greens and stimulation for the girls.

Today I also refreshed the bedding in the laying boxes, using more of our dry oak leaves. Although it’s a lot of work to remove the many leaves from our 47 White Oak trees we have growing on our five acres, I am happy this week that we have so many leaves available for the chickens needs.

Goldy side view on star use

Freckles is recovering from weeks of brooding and is now molting…this is her in her better days.

We will also bag up as many leaves as we can for use later on during the winter months ahead. Not only are these leaves free, when mixed in with the girl’s organic poop they will eventually compost down into our fertile homemade composted soil for our garden. Nothing is wasted in the Small House permaculture garden!

Normally I replace the sand litter in the coops in the fall but since that has already been done twice since April, I will not do that this fall. Each morning we carefully clean out the night poop and leave the doors open on both side of the coop to air it out. That plus the fact the girls have been free ranging and pooping outside all spring summer and fall, so I think we are good to go. I have begun to add small amounts of leaves to the sand litter to acclimate the girls to our winter litter method of what we chicken keepers call, “deep litter.”

I’ve also added firewood ash to the various sand piles for chicken dusting and we replaced a cracked playpen roost with a new roost bar and rolled in a log for a step up to the bar.

HORZ stump roost bar USE

Belly up to the bar, girls!

I know we do spoil our girls but I also believe that contented Small House chickens lay tasty and healthy eggs!

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

The Small House in its Autumn Glory-Photo Diary

I apologize for being so out of touch lately. Fall is such a busy time of year for us at The Small House that the outdoor work just takes over our lives. Hopefully I can make up for fewer blog posts of late with some interesting and lively photographs sharing the beauty of our homestead in the autumn.

We’ve had a hard frost already here in SW Michigan. Hard enough that it froze my remaining potted annuals and tender hydrangeas but once again the weather has turned warm. In these parts we call these warm days, our Indian Summer. I am enjoying the warm sunshine as are our animals who love to lay in the warm dirt and dust or nap.

Small House under bog tree USE

Our small house under the big SW Michigan sky. 

The surrounding woods are taking on new shades of reds, yellow and amber thanks to the cooler nights. There is a vivid beauty about the countryside now that stirs my soul.

HORZ turn around coop in rear USE

This bed, with its ornamental grasses and mum’s really shines in the Autumn.

As those of you who homestead know; this time of is year we call “The Crunch Time” or “The Fall Rush.” I imagine that you are working as hard as we are to gather the last of the vegetable harvest, to close down the gardens and get the animals and their pens ready for winter. These seasonal chores plus my plantar fasciitis, physical therapy and various doctor’s appointments have kept me on the run.

While I honestly prefer a more home-center, slower-paced way of life, I know I must take care of my health right now and that means many appointments in town and twice-weekly working out.

Mums foreground trellis grasses USE VERT

The billowing and blowing grasses are among my favorite native perennials.

The fruits of our labor can be enjoyed in our perennial gardens right now. Native perennial plant, stones hauled home from farmers fields and roadside ditches, mingle with my carefully chosen plantings and projects all lovingly built and maintained, that shine during the Michigan fall. I enjoy every season here but if I had to choose my favorite, I think it would be autumn.

Fencegate raspberries USE

The fenced-in black raspberry patch is one of our chicken’s favorite runs.

Here is a peek at the Small House Homestead this week in all of our lovely fall glory.

Bird grden shrub and birdfeeder USE

Shrubs and feeders provide food and shelter for our beloved songbirds.

Fence and pool shack USE

Our non-working in-the-ground pool resides nestles up against the forest edge.

Gene cart Rhodies on straw USE

Bales of hay will block the winter winds to the chicken run and coop areas. Then next spring these bales will be broken down for mulch in the garden.

Pole barn under sky USEThe chicken condo complex is nestled under our majestic White Oak trees.

Meadow nice USE

The pool shack, meadow grasses and the wood lot in late October.  

North west side of house with hydragneas geen

Our 1950’s era ranch-style home. Yes, that is an old-fashioned TV antenna not a UFO!

Pool shack fall USE

The pool shack storage shed with our home in the distance.

Fence and pool shack USE

The pool complex, storage shack and garden.

I hope you enjoyed you enjoyed a taste of fall on our homestead.

Small House homesteader, Donna

The Joys and the Struggles of Homesteading

Gene and I have been homesteaders now for 15 years. I can say without a doubt from our in-depth, first-hand experience; homesteading brings both tremendous joys and struggles. This is a definitely a life-style choice that is not for the faint of heart.

Fully flowered mailbox July great USE

Our homesteads mailbox in summer.

There is often a thick vein of “romance” running through the many practical needs associated with homesteading. People think most often of the being their own boss; the freedom of no more 9 to 5 grind, sleeping in everyday and no commute or punching the clock to make it to work in the morning.

Barn front and long side NICE

Another summer view of our pole barn, gravel drive way and barn garden.

The prevalent view is that homesteading is about “simple living” but there is nothing remotely simple or romantic about homesteading. The hard truth is, homesteading, like farming, has never been easy.

Not a simple life; there is a seasonal rhythm and an order to this life that I love.

Fall House front blue sky

A November view of the homestead after the White Oak leaves have fallen.

We work harder here than we ever did in our city jobs. This is hard physical labor that causes our joints and our muscles to hurt as well as our feet. We rise earlier and work later. We earn no paid vacation, no insurance or traditional benefits and yet, for now, I cannot see us doing anything else.

Because we are aging, I know that in the near future we will turn the stewardship of this place over to another family. I pray that is a young couple who desire to homestead and who value the accomplishments we have made here during our tenure. It is my hope that their youth and skills can take our home and property to the next level. There is room to building a sturdy shed and fencing in the empty meadow which would be perfect for miniature goats. There is land for more fruit trees too and more home-grown food.

Long view of garden and barn

Side view of our fenced in vegetable garden and raspberry patch/chicken run.

We have experienced multiple challenges while living here. We had the serious challenge of flooding that killed our original fruit orchard, removed our soil from the vegetable gardens and took its toll on our belongings. But no matter what life or the weather throws at us life on the homestead goes on.

We have had several unplanned set-backs and jaw-dropping expenses like the failing septic and drain field just three months after we moved in. Or the stressful and unplanned $10,000 flood extension assessment that forced us to leave retirement and take minimum wage city jobs for the years it took us to earn the cash we needed.

Injuries too are always a fear because then I know then we could not manage the daily or seasonal work. At our advancing age surgery and illness are always in the back of our minds. We have to bring in the harvest in spite of being laid up and no matter what happens to us, there are animals to feed and we have to get the work done.


Flood water surrounded the Small House.



Flooding on the gravel road behind our property.

Unless you are wealthy and can pay hired help, homesteading is in reality a long 12-hour day with very few days off to play. Homesteading can be lonely, isolating and means never-ending work. Homesteading is also a labor of love that takes strength, stamina, perseverance and guts. We have learned there is a feeling of pride in our capacity for survival even through the hardest of times.

Chicken Run from barn USE

Our chicken coop and run in dryer more recent days.

Then why did we choose this life?

Meadow light color

The beauty of our meadow edge.

On the flip side of the struggle, there is being the master of your own fate and the joys that brings. No office job can satisfy in the same way the growing of your own wholesome food or managing your land in positive ways. These are satisfactions that do not have to translate into money.

There is a great fulfillment in starting with basically nothing but the land and making something of that. We get to work outside, with our hands, to watch the birds, the trees and the sky as the seasons change. There is a daily beauty in a  life of non-monetary abundance that is hard to put into words.

Bench set up with milk NICE

We choose homesteading because we wanted to have more control over the food we eat. We wanted outdoors work, to create with our hands and to keep chickens and large dogs. Gene wanted to blacksmith and I wanted create works of art from the handmade paper that I fashioned from the plants I grew. I wanted to live a life of conservation, to be more sustainable and provide a first-hand example to my children and grandchildren that they might not otherwise see I this modern and material world.

omfrey close chicken run in rear

The bottom line is that in homesteading you learn new skills and you learn to rely on your wits and your own grit and no one but you are responsible for your success or your failure.

I hear from many people who tell me this is what they want to have. Knowing the hardships… is this still the life for you?

Small House homesteader, Donna

September Project List Begun-Countdown to Winter

My head cold is a little better today. I definitely feel that the fresh Elderberry tincture made by Burdock and Rose that I bought last weekend has truly made all the difference in the quick healing time for me. If you want to know more details about the fresh herbal wares and the books of herbalist Lisa Rose, please visit her blog and site burdockandrose.com.

Ladder oaganol going on USE

Fall is a very busy “shut down” time on our homestead. All of the garden perennial get cut back and composted, the vegetable garden gets cleaned out and put to bed for the 2015 season. I also store our various outdoor decorations, vignettes and furniture. Our hoses are drained and stored in the pool shack, our water containment totes are emptied and dismantled and the pump house is winterized and so on; you get the picture. And this does not take the chickens many needs into consideration!!

Drilling hook on USE

So I have to be very organized and through the years I have developed a month to month system I keep in the computer, print it off and then tick off chores as they get accomplished. I began working on my September project list today.

Snapbeans diaganol USE

I started my morning by turning on the sprinklers. It’s been very dry for the past two months on the homestead, so I am focusing on deep watering the shrubs, evergreen and fruit trees that all need to be moist when the winter snow begins to fall. Then I began cutting back the Brown Eyed Susan’s and throwing those seed plants in our roadside ditch. This way the seeds are available for the birds to eat and have a chance to germinate more flowers for next summer’s color and privacy. I’m not thrilled to have a wide ditch in front of our homestead but after serious groundwater flooding, it is a necessary evil.

Gene FS and beans USE

I also washed our bed quilt, blanket and pillows today and hung them out on the clothesline. Usually I try to air out or wash our pillows during the intense heat of the summer but that chore just got away from this season. But it is supposed to be in the 80’s this week so the sunshine and air should bake away the dust mites and air them out at the same time. The water-bed sheets received a 3 hour, hot water “sanitation” wash today as well. Sleeping with our Labrador Retriever is a sweet thing to do but I am just anal enough to need to sanitize our entire bedding from time to time.

Sheets and pillow all USE

I also picked the garden grape tomatoes and green beans and used some of those beans for our dinner today and we froze the rest of them.

Beans in strainer USE

Gene’s chores included hanging up the extension ladder on the side of the pole barn, hooked up the shop light in both chicken coops,  our freshly picked green beans, grilled the chicken for our main meal today and took Sassy for a good long swim.

This afternoon Gene and I started to inventory and boxing up all the decorative accents I had previously used as vintage decorations on our three season porch. Out goes the chicken egg baskets, the scales, the grain scoop, the crocks and much more as I have decided that not only do I want a cleaner and more tailored look on our porch I’m just plain tired of dusting, cleaning and maintenance.

Gene inventory stuff USE

We plan to have an auction sale next summer so these items will go in that sale. We agreed to use this auction money for a special trip for our 25th anniversary that occurs in 6 years. No decisions have been made at where we are going but I am hoping for something very special, like perhaps a cruise. Being divorced and starting over from the bottom up at age 50 and 55, we have never had the opportunity for a really nice (non-camping) vacation.

VERT pile on floor use

It was a small chores/bits and pieces kind of day today but I absolutely love ticking things off of my To Do list and today I did that a lot.

Small House Homesteader, Donna


Tieing up Loose Ends/Dynamite Flatbread Recipe

Redone stone bed diaganol USEA closer look at the newly refurbished stone bed.

Stone bed overview

The pea gravel corner at the studio building soon to be guest house.

I also polyurethaned Gene’s blacksmith forge sign as it had faded back to almost bare cedar over the past few years. That sign now looks better than new!

Forge sign newly poly USE

Gene loves his newly revamped forge sign.

Bag of flour

A page from the Country Gardens magazine with flatbread pictured.

Today I made a chicken pasta salad with vegetables for lunch and experiment with a new recipe for Ranch Flatbreads. This recipe was outstanding!

I adore this bread. I can also imagine it as the start of a wrap for a salmon and green “sandwich.” And if I leave out the savory herbs and add sweet ones like mint instead this would make a wonderful dessert wrap for homemade jam or sweetened fresh fruit.

7 chunks on cutting board

Ranch Flatbread

(Originally from Country Gardens magazine, Fall 2015)


2 ½ cup of plain Greek yogurt

1 tsp salt

2 Tbsp. ground dehydrated chives

1 Tbsp. ground dehydrated onion

1 Tbsp. ground dehydrated garlic

½ tsp. ground dehydrated dill

2 ½ cups of self-rising flour/King Arthur’s Whole Wheat

Olive oil for cooking

  1. In a large bowl stir together yogurt, salt, chives, garlic and dill.
  2. Add flour, stirring with a wooden spoon until dough forms, adding more flour as needed.
  3. Transfer to a floured surface (I used a marble cutting board.)
  4. Knead dough by folding and gently pressing for 10-12 strokes or until dough is smooth.
  5. Divide dough into eight balls (about 3 inches wide.)
  6. Cover dough and let stand for 20 minutes.
  7. Using your hands pat the dough out into a flat pita bread shape.
  8. Heat a 12”cast iron skillet over medium heat, brushing on olive oil on the pan’s surface.
  9. Add a flat bread round and cook one to two minutes or until puffed and brown, turning once.
  10. It helps to press with a spatula after flipping this encourages it to puff with steam.
  11. Repeat with remaining rounds.
  12. Serve warm.

Bread pasta salad on plateI hope you like this flatbread recipe as much as I do!

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

Drying Herbs for Winter Treats – Mint from the Meadow

This is a busy the time of year for those of us who are harvesting and drying herbs for winter treats for our hens. I have been busy drying sage, mint, basil, wormwood and more.

Drying mint one hald of round table

 Herbs on an outdoor wooden table at my art studio.

I do cut a nice bit of fresh herbs for my hens to eat every morning and put them in their food bowl. I use what I have in the garden which right now is; fennel fronds, basil, parsley, sage and mint.  I add in some dandelion greens most days as well.

I am also planning ahead and drying additional herbs now for winter eating. In Michigan we have a long period of few greens for our chickens to eat during our 6-month long cold spell. By drying and storing my herbs now while they are in their prime I can not only have plenty of herbs to give the chickens all winter long, I can increase their chances of my girls staying healthy and happy during a cold and often stressful time of year.

Mint in the meadow

Mint in flower with lovely purple blooms.

I am working on harvesting mints right now as they are ready to dry. I planted a few mint plants in the wildflower meadow about 10 years ago and they have spread. Prolific spreaders, albeit invasive, they are now growing everywhere in the meadows edge and working their way in towards the middle of the meadow. I let some of the morning dew dry off and then cut and harvest.

The simplest way to preserve herbs is to dry them and then use the dry part to make teas. I’ve been giving my chicks and hens fresh chopped herbs in season and air-dried or dehydrated herbs in the winter and they love them either way. I taught the Rhodies to eat them as tiny chicks from a week or so old and they still quickly nibble them up as soon as I put them out.

Some herbalists dry their herbs on outdoor drying screen under the shade of a porch but this summer I have been using a wooden table that sits under the overhang of my art studio. I cut the herbs and lay them down and a week or so later they are dry enough to put into jars. The porch overhang keeps them dry and the natural wind tunnel found there helps to dry out the natural oils.

Mint flower

herbs are known as both food and medicine; and mint in particular is known to be a digestive aid and to help with tummy troubles (in humans.)

These herbs can be used in cooked dishes, teas and in the chickens food. Herbs are the most perfect food for humans and chicken alike!

Small House Homesteaders, Donna