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

Splendor in the Homestead Meadow

Late July and early August is the time for splendor in our homestead meadow. It’s now ablaze with color of day lilies, yarrow, cup plants, ox-eye Daisy’s and more.

Butterfly bush house in rear to left hand side  USE

With the open prairie as my inspiration I began creating a meadow garden here over a decade ago. This is the is the month of splendor for colors in the meadow at the Small House Homestead. The native flowers are in full bloom now and creating stand out color this year.

Pathway deep meadow boarder

I selected varieties that would flourish in the heat and sunshine and require little care once established.

Daylilies and meadow path USE

The sweet smell of the Butterfly shrubs is intoxicating and the splashes of red bee balm, orange butterfly weed, yellow cup plants and brown-eyed Susan’s, and purples butterfly bush, ornamental grasses and blazing star make for an invigorating and beautiful stroll around the meadow.

Meadow boarder gorgeous USE

These hardy natives can tolerate the summer’s heat and drought with nary a blink like warm weather warriors.

VERT boarder edge and studio unusual

Most all attract butterfly’s, bees and dragon fly’s and other insects.

Meadow boarder gorgeous USE

It’s hard to believe that when I started this project in 200 this was a traditional mowed grass area I decided to let grow up. I wanted to add a lovely destination garden for my White Oak Studio &  Gallery customers to enjoy. Come for the garden and shop the gallery. Or come to shop the gallery and enjoy a stroll in the meadow garden.

I started by digging out the grass and weeds in a 5 ft. border all around the meadows edge and plugged in perennials and added layers of bark chip mulch.

Red daylilies and artesmia USE

My plan was to choose native plants that are drought tolerant, that attract insects for the birds, make a splash of vibrant color and be good for the ecosystem. I wanted to create many “edges” where birds of many species would come to nest and raise their young. We call this our “Songbird B&B!”

Butterfly bed to left and daylilies to righthand USE

Later on I added another 4 ft. of garden behind the perennials and planted taller shrubs using Viburnum’s I dug up from a friend’s garden , Forsythia’s I propagated and Flowering Quince shrubs that pop up in places where I do not want them. I now have  a nice shrub backdrop that blooms in the spring.

VERT boarder edge and studio unusual

We also have a Monarch Butterfly way station and are a certified National Wildlife Federation garden.

Here are a few images of the early meadow around 2004 when it was a  brand new project. It’s been fun and rewarding to see its growth and expansion.


Our meadow edge border in 2004.



Corn, beans and squash –  a Three Sisters Garden



Cut flowers grew in the raised bed in the early garden years.

Small House homesteader and gardener, Donna


Using Comfrey to Make Compost Tea

Herbs  in wagon against pool shack USE

Harvesting comfrey in a basket and an old wooden wagon.

This week I noticed that my comfrey plants were fully grown and in bloom. That’s my signal to make some comfrey compost tea.

Comfrey close USE

A close up of view of my comfrey in bloom in the meadow.

It’s really simple to do; I cut the plants down, chop up the stems and leaves and put them in a 5-gallon bucket half filled with water of water, put a pot on top to keep out leaves or twigs and set them aside for a few weeks. Rotting comfrey can get a bit stinky so I set ours on the back side of the pole barn where hardly anyone ever goes.

Compost tea buckets empty

Here is my recipe:  take a bucket, add water and chopped comfrey. Let it sit for few weeks until it turns brown. Add to your garden!

The leaves and stems rot and make a super healthy fertilizer or compost enhancer.

Wooden wagon against meadow bed USE

Wagon full of comfrey and mint at the meadow.

I typically use my comfrey tea to green up any tomato plants whose leaves have turned yellow but it can be used on any plant. Comfrey is a magic herb!

Small House Homesteader and gardener, Donna


Gardening with Heritage and Open Pollination Seeds

For the first time I planted all heritage type, open pollination seeds in our homesteads vegetable garden. What a “quick start” these seeds have given us. After not having rain for over two weeks we had 4” of rain last night and another inch ½ this morning. The garden is pretty well watered at last here at the Small House homestead!

Long view house in back USE FIRST

I ordered seeds this season from Mary’s Heirloom Seeds and Seed Treasures. This year I made it a priority to find and buying both heritage seeds and those that are open-pollination seeds. Our food growing plan is pretty simple – to plant what will grow here in our soil and in our short growing season!

What exactly is open pollinated? Mary from Mary’s Heirloom Seeds describes open-pollination as “As seeds that are simply pollinated by insects, birds, wind or other natural mechanism. The way nature intended. The seeds of open pollinated plants will produce new generations of those same plants.”

Pumpkin Seeds 6-14-15

Our vegetables are looking especially good already  – much to my surprise. Our seeds have only been in the ground two weeks they germinated very quickly and they are growing like weeds. Be it the temperature, the soil or the lack of water, our plants often get a slow start here but not this year. This winter I bought all open pollination, heritage seeds and boy have they taken off?

Shallow raise bed with beans up 6-14-15

It too soon to tell about the quality or amount of the fruits and the vegetables we will ultimately harvest from our garden this season but if the fast response of seed growth is any indication, my hopes are running pretty high right now. I’ve only picked off one beetle thus far too…

Runner beans up the trellis 6-14-15

This is the winning combination for our Zone 5b garden; simple shallow raised beds filled with well composted horse manure soil and planted with open pollinated Heritage seeds topped with bark chips mulch al la the Back to Eden Gardening method.  


Small House homesteader and gardener, 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

Heirloom Fruit Trees Planted on the Homestead

We replanted the fruit trees today in our home orchard.We planted three apples, two pears and a peach tree.

These trees replace those that died of old age and those that we lost in the high ground water flooding during the time period of 2009-2012. This extended time of flooding was  very rough time for us on our homestead. Living through the flooding and the stress that comes from the uncertainty of losing one’s home and has given me a much greater sense of how farmers and growers who live off the land must feel during bud killing frosts, drought, flooding, wildfires and so on.

Gene from front tree going in hole

Gene removing a fruit trees from its container.

We want to grow organic fruit without a lot of chemical sprays so we started this journey by reading The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips. Published by Chelsea green, The Holistic Orchard is a seminal work that is being compared with Sir Albert Howard and J.L. Rodale’s classic books on soil and organic gardening.

HORS triangle of dirt and trees waiting

 One of two large growing beds filled with manure, straw and our homemade compost.

After deciding that I wanted to grow heirloom trees  I found a source of heritage fruit trees at Southmeadow Fruit Gardens, Baroda, MI.,  which is located about an hour from our home. I found I was over whelmed by the numerous choices and I just didn’t know which one would do best in our area. After several e-mail conversations with the owner of the business  I placed an order for “Pete’s Picks.”

Pete choose the following trees species for us as the best choice for our soil, light and wind conditions;

1) Tohuky (fugi)
2) Court Pen Do Plat
3) Perry Russet


Cart horizontal

Our garden cart was used to hold our mix of manure, compost and waste straw.

I also bought two Barlette pears and one Red Haven Peach from Jonker’s Garden Center, Holland, MI, a very respected nursery. I figure that I am hedging my bets by buying and planting three heritage species and two others known to do well in this geographic area.

Jobes Fruit Tree Spikes

We added Jobes fruit tree fertilizer; two spikes per tree.


  1. Semi-dwarfs (10-15 ft. in height)
  2. Self-pollinating trees
  3. Heritage tree varities
  4. Varities that require the least amount of chemicals possible


We have flat land, lean and sandy soil and frequent droughts here on our SW Michigan homestead. We are working with a site that is sunny with some shade created by our home and several nearby large White Oak trees. We are located 17 miles inland from Lake Michigan and the heavy winds off the big lake can sometime blow down the roadway in front of our home so our site can be very windy at times.

The planting bed location was chosen both for the amount of sun the site provided but also to create a bit more of a buffer from the class AA roadway that runs in front of our home.

Following the principles outlined in the Holistic Garden we planted our trees in a large triangle combining a Permaculture fruit guild theory with underplantings of comfrey as a deep-rooted nitrogen fixer.  Later on we will add native lupines, chives, daffodils and yarrow.

We are both very tired today….but it is the satisfied kind of tired from a job well done. I know only Gene is photographed in these pictures, but I work side by side with him all the way. We are a team.

The next step will be to pick up a truck load of bark chips to use as a mulch on both beds.

In about three years we will picking our own fruit right from our own trees. ALL organic!

Small House Homesteader and gardener, 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



The Small House Homesteads Weekend Garden Clean-Up

It’s again the time for our homesteads “Fall Rush.”

It’s not very exciting to report that we spent the entire weekend working on the garden clean-up project but this is our life.

When the garden is the heart of the homestead like it is for us here at The Small House Homestead, the garden shut-down an important part of our autumn maintenance. So for anyone reading this blog who is contemplating a homestead you should be aware upfront that homesteading means constant and hard physical labor and a lots of it.

Wide view Gene fall

The turn around garden is put to bed for the 2014 gardening season.

Now, I’ve worked hard all of my life, in the home and out of it. My grandparents owned a farm, I owned a 75-year-old home that I remodeled and yet in hindsight I realize now that I was not fully aware of the daily amount of work this homestead would require. This is not a warning but just a “be-aware” of what you are getting into if homesteading is the lifestyle choice for you.

cart in front of wire bin USE

Our “can’t live without it,” Carts Vermont garden cart in front of our large compost pile.  

While we have many different facets of getting ready for winter, one big part is our garden shut down process. While some folks opt to wait until spring to cut down their ornamental grasses, Gene and I cut ours down in the late fall now. We’ve done it both ways, fall and spring, and for us fall just works best.

Back of compost close USE

The back of our pallet built compost bin. This is located behind the blacksmith forge against our wooded property line.

A number of our fancy grass clumps are situated near our driveway turn around and along our curving sidewalk to the bird feeding bed and cutting them down now means we can use the snow blower on the sidewalk this winter without having to dodge the grasses. Once the heavy wet snow falls these grasses are smashed down anyway and the beauty is gone. We have plenty of seed heads for the birds as well as multiple bird feeders for our wintering songbirds so they have plenty to eat all winter long in spite of the tall grasses being gone.

Our system is as follows; Gene uses the electric hedge trimmer to cut the grasses down and I haul them out to the big compost bins behind the pole barn. Then using the sucker/blower Gene sucks up the remaining leaves out of the flower beds that are filled with perennial and bark chips, while I rake around the beds picking up stray leaves. We do this bed by bed until they are complete.

Bin front -bucket-pitchfork USE

We removed the front boards from the bins and used the flea market pitchfork to stir the compost.

This weekend I also put down some grass seed in bare spots on the lawn. I’ve done that chore both fall and spring and fall seeding here just works best for us. Gene also removed the boards on the front of our compost bins and I also stirred up the compost soil in anticipation of top-dressing my perennials soon. I snatched up some of the great red worms from the compost bin and toss them in for the chickens who were free ranging in the vegetable garden today. They gobbled them up right quick!

Fare side weed killed closer plastic USE

The vegetable garden where the chickens free ranged today.

I moved the large black plastic mulch piece from one side of the vegetable garden to the other side. The goal of this process is to smother the grass and weeds and to make room for the multiple bags of oak leaf mulch that will arrive soon from my sons home to ours. In the spring this spot that will be filled with leaves now will be home to a hoop house!! That’s our 2016 summer project.

Black plastic in garden house in rear USE

The plastic mulch is now moved to the last weedy portion of the vegetable garden. By spring the weeds will be smothered and the soil ready for me to build raised beds on it.

Most people rest on the weekend in anticipation of the work week ahead. On the homestead, most weeks, we work seven days a week. Homesteading is not for the faint of heart. Just wanted you to know.

Small House Homesteader, Donna