Field Trip to the Last Standing Beech Tree

I took a field trip this week to capture the fog and rain at Ely Lake Primitive Campground.

I walked the North Loop to the Beech Trail, a trail I have been walking now for fourteen years. I’ve walked that trail to visit and to document the last standing Beech tree.

Ely Lake white spacing jpeg w text

I call it The Grandfather Tree.

For me that tree is a metaphor for life and what we humans are doing to our environment…

I enjoy the quiet, the wildness and the peace I find there. Our Labrador Sassy loves to run and swim there. Ely Lake is magical place that I hope will be protected in the future from fracking.

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Inspired by our Homesteads Majestic White Oak Trees

Great oaks from little acorns grow…

One of the tops reason we bought our 5-acre property was due to the many beautiful White Oak trees we found here. They add so much beauty and wonderful cooling shade to our property. At first count we found 47 White Oak trees on our property, plus the black oaks, cherries, sassafras, dogwoods and other trees living here.

Pool house woods Sassy best

Sassy stands in the snowy pathway Gene blows the paths to allow us to walk or snowshoe in our woods during the snowy months.

Surely no tree captures our imagination more than an oak. Often living for hundreds of years, oaks support a diversity of life above and below the ground, a rhizosphere community, where a symbiotic relationship exists between diverse species. Native oaks rely on soil microbes and bacteria that produce growth regulators for the tips of new roots, while the new roots create a sort of sugary mucus to feed the bacteria.

Pool and polebarnbigblue sky

The pool shack with chain link fencing sits in front of the pole barn with its blacksmith forge extension.

Oak trees support at least 534 moth and butterfly caterpillars, the most of any native tree. Acorns feed countless creatures and shoot out a tap-root practically the instant they hit the ground. Properly sited, an oak won’t grow stereotypically slowly, but will grow several feet annually and last for generations.

While the acorns of most oaks are edible, many contain a good deal of tannins which render the acorns very bitter to the taste.

You can do as the Native Americans did and leach the tannins out by repeated soaking in fresh water, dumping the water, and re-soaking the acorns. But it is much easier and faster to plant or harvest more edible acorns.

Generally, the white oak family has the sweetest acorns, requiring very little (if any) leaching. These oaks include the white oak, burr oak, chestnut leaf oak, and turkey oak. There are also many selected seedling trees and hybrids developed for human consumption, so if you want to plant some oaks to harvest the acorns for food, you have many different trees available.

Oaks are all beautiful trees to have around and most are hardy from Zones 3-9, depending on the variety. The acorns develop all summer and fall to the ground without a husk when ripe, making picking and shelling very easy. Acorn shells are pliable and thin.

As with all nuts, it’s a good idea to dry the nuts for a week or so in a single layer in a protected environment, so they don’t mold in storage.

Pool house fence blue sky nice

This is the view of the woods that I see looking out of our dining room window.

There are some beautiful myths about the oak tree that I love.

In Baltic mythology, the oak is the sacred tree of Latvian Pērkons, Lithuanian Perkūnas and Prussian Perkūns. Pērkons is the god of Thunder and one of the most important deities in the Baltic pantheon.

In Celtic mythology, it is the tree of doors, believed to be a gateway between worlds, or a place where portals could be erected.

In Norse mythology, the oak was sacred to the thunder god, Thor. Some scholars speculate that this is because the oak, as the largest tree in northern Europe, was the one most often struck by lightning. Thor’s Oak was a sacred tree of the Germanic Chatti tribe. Its destruction marked the Christianisation of the heathen tribes by Saint Boniface.

In Classical mythology, the oak was a symbol of Zeus and his sacred tree. An example is the oracle of Dodona, which in prehistory consisted solely of a holy oak.

In the Bible, the oak tree at Shechem is the site where Jacob buries the foreign gods of his people (Gen. 35:4) . In addition, Joshua erects a stone under an oak tree as the first covenant of the Lord (Josh. 24.25-7). In Isaiah 61, the prophet refers to the Israelites as “Oaks of Righteousness”.

In Slavonic mythology, the oak was the most important tree of the god Perun.

The acorn, the seed of the oak tree, is the universal symbol of patience, endurance and well-earned bounty. In folk art, carved acorns are commonly used to decorate furniture and other objects.


This is the cedar sign I had handmade and carved for Gene one year for Christmas.

The acorn is the image I picked for our logo when we first moved here and opened The Whit Oak Studio & Gallery and the White Oak Blacksmith Forge. I am working on our acorn logo this winter and hope to incorporate it into my blog soon. Stay tuned!

Small House Homesteader, Donna



More Tweaking of the Chicken Run

The wet and cold weather is coming on fast in Michigan. When the days grow shorter and autumn’s brisk entry turned leaves colorful and crisp the dipping temperature mean its time to think seriously about preparing your chicken coop and run for the coming winter. Because many backyard chickens live outside and are exposed to the elements cool chill we need to think about preparing their coop and their runs.

Our coop is brand new so most drafts have been eliminated. We’ve already added the pink foam insulation in the roof gable and screwed in the winter boards to the roof itself so we are already half-way there. The water heater is in the chicken waterer and the electric light is ready to turn on.

Today was my husband’s day off and it was time to make a quick and easy wind break for the chicken run. While this won’t help them a lot in the deep snow of winter, I am hoping this tarp may give them a few more extended weeks of free ranging. Our babies are still little and I have to be very careful of them getting wet and cold. 

Gene at corner USE

Adding a repurposed tarp as a wind break to the chickens favorite corner of the run. They follow the sun when it is out and lay and bathe in the warm and sunny soil.

We talked about buying construction grade plastic or a few cheap tarps. Then my husband mentioned repurposing our old brown tarp that was pretty much torn in half. Brilliant idea! This tarp had been sitting under a pile of pea gravel for many years and the wear and tear tore it almost in half.

Doing the tarp USE

I am standing in the vegetable garden facing the North side of the run. The black plastic mulch is laying on a large area of weeds to solarize and kill those weeds.

We picked the north and west sides of the coop to tarp since the wind blows in the hardest here from the west. Beautiful Lake Michigan is the final watershed located to the west of our property so that is where the wind blows in as well. This corner is generally the sunniest corner of the run when there is sunshine too.

VERT tarp at gate pole

Tarp stapled to the wood post at the gate.

We simply folded the tarp over the chicken wire and wood pieces and used the stapled gun to attach the tap to the wood pieces at the bottom and the wooden poles at the gates. We also moved the galvanized water tank from the chicken run and into the vegetable garden where we are really using it for spot watering.

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The view of the South side of the chicken run sitting under the tall White Oak tree that provides shade to the run and coop.

This is such a simple but important project for chicken babies who should not be left in windy drafts.

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna


Small House Water Totes – One Year Later

Those of you who have been following my old blog; Small House Under a Big Sky http:/ may remember reading about our installation of two 275 gallon water totes to capture rainwater off of our metal pole barn roof.

Double tanks water

The water totes sit on repurposed 8″ X 8″ logs we picked up along side of the roadway with a “free” sign on them. This height gives me the ability to slide a 5-gallon white plastic buckets under the spigot for water.

I’ve been reading about the water shortages in the Western part of the US and find myself feeling compassionate and very sad for the growers and ranchers caught up in this situation. My thinking at the time that we bought and connected this system was that a water shortage due to climate change was just a matter of time – and I definitely want to be prepared.Brown downspout and brown tub

Gene connecting the downspout, flexible hose to the tote. This is how the water flows from the pole barn roof into the tote.

I was most interested in setting this system up for several reasons…

  • I’m not a doomsday prepper, I do believe that climate change is going to alter the amount of water we naturally get through rainfall and that safe drinking water is going to not only become scarce….but become the wealth of the future.
  • I am philosophically opposed to companies like Nestels’ taking the ground water for free and selling it back to us for a cost. I believe that potable water is a basic human right.
  • With a big garden and animals, I want to be prepared for possible droughts.
  • Water is such a precious commodity to me that seeing all that water pouring off our barn roof and going into the ground around the barn seems like a waste of resources to me.
  • Water conservation is a worthwhile and positive effort, for us and for out community.

White pipe with faucet

A close up of the hard PVC pipe and metal hose end and spigot. This allows us to connect a hose or to open up to fill a bucket.

We completed our first season using this tote system and here is what we learned.

  • Check the tote system every few weeks to monitor what’s happening. Things can go wrong quickly.
  • Check your gutter periodically. Ours clogged once and we lost about 3” of rain that day.
  • 275 gallon of water is dispensed faster than you can believe.
  • We haven’t been able to find an appropriately sized pump so we are using gravity feed through a garden hose for drip and it is working out fine.
  • The totes empty quickly, in only a few hours.

We had a wet summer in Michigan this year with plentiful rainfall and our totes surprisingly filled up twice this gardening season. The first usage was for our vegetable garden and the second time we emptied both tanks was to water-in two, six foot white pines trees we planted this fall.

East pines USE

This hose is connected to the water tote system and uses gravity feed to drain its water.

It was a worthwhile experiment, and expense and one that I think worked out well for us. I’m glad we spent the $100.00 to purchase the two tanks and the various part for our system. We saved a lot of electricity this season (which will happen again next yearn as well) but even more, we made good use of a precious commodity that we would otherwise be losing to the ground – potable water.

If you want more information on rainwater catchment and grey water harvesting there is an e-book that can be purchased. This book is available from is the premier resource on water sustainability systems. You can take advantage of the incredible discount on this $25 e-book
during this week only.

Want some more information on what’s inside? Let’s take a look.

One method of rainwater harvesting that you can use is the cistern. Cisterns are for heavy-duty water catchment. They are similar to rain barrels, but are designed for much larger scale use. Cisterns can either be store-bought or DIY systems. If you do-it-yourself, one extremely important idea to keep in mind is:

Since cisterns hold large volumes of water it is extremely important that what you are building is strong enough to hold without failing.

The destructive potential of water should not be underestimated when building a cistern! Even modest amounts of water have the ability to cause great harm to your property.

Most cisterns are designed to collect rainwater for outdoor use. Rainwater should not be used as potable water!

These are just two important suggestions on cisterns from the Rainwater Catchment and Greywater Harvesting e-book. For a more detailed look into how to build one and things to avoid, check out this offer!

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at greywater. And if you have not done so already, please add us to your list of contacts.

Thank you for doing your part for a better future.


Small House Homestead Donna

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.

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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!

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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