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

Small House Weekly Homestead Photo Diary

Not that I am complaining….but summer weather came upon us suddenly this week on our homestead in SW Michigan. One night it is freezing and the next day it is sunny and hot. In fact, it was sunny and hot all week-long and no rain. The daffodils are bursting out everywhere and their bright yellow color everywhere makes me happy. Even the daffodils that I had thought were drowned in the 2009-2012 high ground water flooding have returned with many new blooms and are spreading.

Firepit in meadow ith Rhodies very close GOOD

The Rhodies love to scratch and peck in the wood ash from the recently burned down fire pit.

While this is a mood boosting strategy we do need rain here and a lot of it. Not only do the plants and trees need life-giving water to get a really good start, we need to fill our water containment totes for the long, dry summer ahead. The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting hotter than usual and less rain that usual in our part of the state. In a 1950’s style home without a/c and a not-currently-working swimming pool, this is not good news. Sigh.

April daffodils to circle USE

The daffodils are bursting out in the crab apple tree circle garden right now. 

We hope to get the swimming pool up and running again soon but a large chunk of cash is needed to do that and not in the budget right now. The pool needs to be drained, scraped, acid washed, re-painted and the mechanical’s up and running again. It’s going to a big and expensive project.

Daffodils in triangle under fruit tree USE

Circles of daffodils in the fruit tree triangle. 

Gene worked on removing the deer netting from around the hydrangea shrubs and turned the pool pump turned on and got out the hoses. He also worked on repairing the ruts in the meadow this week. The rusts came as a result of the roadside trimmer driving their large, heavy truck to dump the mulch. The ruts were filled with a mix of sandy soil from the woods, well-composed horse manure from a friend’s farm and topped with good composted soil from the compost pile. In the fall, I’ll plant grass seeds. Grass seeds do not germinate well here in the spring time unless we have a very wet year to keep them going. Grass seed simply does better here if I spread it in the fall and let the snow melt germinate it the following spring.

Cart, Rhodies Gene digging w shovel USE

Gene digging composted soil with his Rhodie helpers fishing for worms.

Daffodils in bloom in bird bed USE

Our bird feeding bed is edged in daffodils and a bloom.

I spent most of my week dispersing straw and then bark chips. I made some good progress but have a l-o-n-g way to go yet.

Rhodies close puzzld cute

This Rhode Island Red chicken is certainly strutting her stuff in the leaves.Gen holing Crystal who is lfying downCrystal wants to get away after wiping down her messy butt from a bit too many kitchen scraps.

Burning bush and daffodils barn

Bloom where you are planted my friends!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

Spring Snowstorm on the Homestead

Yesterday the US experienced a strong mix of heavy rain, wet snow and tornadoes through the north-east. Time magazine said in a weather issue that came out last year that this is the ‘new normal’; meaning intense hard rain storms, tornadoes, snow storms and more.

Pararamic studio curved tree USE

The heavy snow has doubled over the river birch tree.

In SW Michigan we received about 8 -10″ inches of heavy, wet snow. It is beautiful to look at be sure however it is really physically hard to remove on an aging body like ours. On our homestead the chore of snow removal falls totally on us and this is with using a snow blower and hand shovels.

Playhouse thick snow USE

The playhouse looks adorable under the overnight snowfall.

We do get asked sometimes, why don’t you just hire someone? Once when our snow blower was broken and we received 12″-15″ of wet snow dumped overnight we paid a local guy to come and plow our two driveways. Unfortunately he knew he has us over a barrel and charged us $90.00. I almost flipped out as Gene was making a little over $7.00 an hour at Menard’s at that time and that represented a weeks worth of income for us. Our retirees budget can’t sustain that on a regular basis so we must handle the snow removal ourselves.

Coop roof and tarp under snow USE

Snow on the roof of the covered run. I am thankful for having a covered run for the long winter months.

The hard plastic roofing panels on the covered coop run hold the snow and the three side tarps keep out snow but allow for good ventilation.

Chicken complex USE

The heavy snow pulled down our netting so repairs will be needed.

I was really getting used to the unexpected patch of spring-like weather we have had here these past two weeks. I must admit I am disappointed that winter weather has returned.

109th roadway under snow

The main road in front of our home is deserted.

We hustled and took advantage of the warmer weather to get some maintenance chores done. Gene washed, vacuumed and waxed my Subaru as well as vacuumed out his truck. We drove to the car wash and washed his truck and sandy undercarriage, as well as the dirty winter boot tray and dog kennel after the sick chicken was in it.

Snoopy close USE

The snoopy yardstick says 6″ of snow on the hot tub cover.

Diaganol hottub USE                           Our snow-covered hot tub and deer fencing.

I also picked up load after load of sticks and twigs from the yard and spent hours outside with the chickens giving them a chance to free range as much as possible during the lull in the snowfall. I personally would have loved more time without snow but that was not meant to be.

Pool fence and woods USE

Thick snow has covered the chain link fencing surrounding our pool.

Snow is now a mixed blessing here. Yes, it is very beautiful to look at and we do need the water in the water table but…this thick wet snow coating every surface means a lot of hard physical work head for us.

VERT coop under big oak USE

Todays path to the chicken coop to do our morning chores.

This lifestyle IS our priority…but it is also one of the most difficult realities of homesteading and aging bodies…

VERT oak and house front USE

The giant White Oak at the front of our property is like a sentinel showing the way.

Small house homesteader Donna

Home From Florida and Back to Reality

It is hard to wrap my head around the fact that just a few days ago I was sitting in sunny and warm Florida, lodged right on the bright blue Atlantic Ocean. It was a wonderful and relaxing few days in a place and a lifestyle that is frankly, foreign to me.

Ocean shows at townhouse

The townhouse my brother rented and graciously allowed me to stay in.

However the reality of winter and real life came crashing back to me when I came home to a storm front of 55 mph winds roaring in off of Lake Michigan.

A stunning bride

  My stunning niece Carrie, on her wedding day.

It was a whirlwind trip to Florida for my niece’s wedding – just four days total and two of them were travel days. I would have loved to have spent a week or more there on the beach in the sun but I had to keep my expenses as low as possible.

HORZ heart of shells lighter

Shells I found on the beach and fashioned into a heart.

This destination wedding was held at the Victorian Florida House Inn on Amelia Island. This quaint and colorful 1857 vintage inn is located in the heart of the historic district of Fernandina Beach, Florida.

Entry to Inn NICE

The front door of the Florida House Inn is a taste of what is to come inside.

My niece is an events planner for the Hilton group so creating memorable experiences is what she does for a living and it showed. The charming wedding and wonderful reception were held out-of-doors under the Florida sky in the inns courtyard and garden. Having everything, from wedding to reception, lodging all happening in one location made it easy on everyone who attended. http://www.floridahouseinn.com/

Florida House Inn

Today it was spitting sleet so Gene and I spent the morning reworking the chicken runs to protect the chickens from the high winds. Their corner lazing area needed serious reinforcement as its tarp cover was loose and blowing around and the 2″ X 4″ frame had blown down to the ground.

Gene tarping gate USE

Tarping the gate and the run fencing.

I added more dirt and leaves to the slippery base of outdoor dog kennel hang out spot that serves as a wind break and protection from the rain. I also added two long logs and a wooden pallet to give the chickens a place to stand-off of the ground. Gene added another tarp to the metal fencing to provide even more wind protection, especially from the brisk west blowing winds.

Outside vegging area tarp USE

This outdoor vegging corner gives chickens shelter, food and a place to dust.

I chopped open a pumpkin for the chickens to peck at and divided it between the indoor and outdoor runs. I added additional wood ashes to the dusting areas and the under coop areas and generally tried to make the covered and open runs a bit more comfortable and secure for the girls.

VERT feeding corner close

Hay bales make a good wind break and a sheltered feeding area in high winds.

I moved the chicken feeding areas into a sheltered corner behind the hay bales to give them more protection from wind and snow when eating. Their eating areas have been out in the open, sunny run but with the changing seasons that has all changed during the last week.

Rhodies on new log USE

The girls love jumping up and off an old log I found in the woods.

I also rolled an old log into the Rhodies covered run to use as a jungle gym and perching place. I also moved chunks of barley grass into the covered run that I grown in the open run areas. My goal is to keep live greens available and help to keep boredom at bay as boredom leads to infighting.

Rhodies grass USE

A chunk of barley grass helps to keep the busy on a boring inside the run day.

I am trying in particular to give our Cochin/Phoenix mix, Freckles, more options to eat and rest out of the wind. Freckles as you may recall has been under the weather in her post-brooding and molting months.

Close up

Freckles, the Phoenix/Cochin mix in better health. 

We have been giving Freckles a small amount of cat food each morning in a special efforts to get more protein into her. We have been separating her for feeding from the others who quickly gobble up her food. This lowers her stress that arises from pecking and marauding from the other birds and has been a strategy this is working. This week her very pale comb has slowly pinking up on tis way to a normal red color. Her eyes have brightened a bit as well. She is still nervous around the Rhodies and avoids eating with the others in fear of being pecked but she is doing a bit better each week. My goal is to have her well as soon as possible because winter is coming very soon.

It is 32 degree today and spitting snow…..goodbye fall. Hello winter.

Small House homesteader, 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

Update on the Small House Fruit Tree Inoculation

If you have been reading this blog for very long you probably know that our fruit orchard was all but wiped out by the 2009-2012 high ground water flooding we experienced. After getting over the stress and shock of those terrible four springs when we thought we were going to lose our home to either flooding or mold. And we did lose much of our painstakingly built up soil and then like many farmers who have experienced such loss, we set about shaking off the crisis and replanting.

USE FIRST PEACH and comfrey

Our peach tree with its comfrey guild below.

We replanted in the spring of 2015 using a mix of three nursery bought pears and peaches trees and three grafted heirloom apples from South meadow Fruit Gardens located in Benton Harbor about an hour’s drive from us.

Email smfruit@aol.com

I had never used grafted stock before and I wanted to hedge my success by planting three years old Jonkers Garden Center bought trees as well and the one-year-old specialty grafted tree stock from Southmeadow Fruit Gardens.

Tree triangle dirt only

The large triangle bed in the very early spring after we dug up the sod.

Following the advice of Michael Phillips, author of The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruit and Berries the Biological Way. At his recommendation we dug up a large section of grass in a large triangle shape and planted the trees 8 ft. apart.

I worked hard to improve my lean oak savannah forest soil by adding well composted horse manure mixed in with hay and covered in bark chips. his is the secret recipe to growing anything here.

Comfrey and lupines USE

Sterile Russian comfrey, native lupines and ramial bark chips as mulch.

The plan was to plant comfrey under each tree at the root line which we did. I ordered 58 slips of Russian comfrey at $1.00 each and they have grown beautifully and flowered quite well their first summer. The delicate blue comfrey flowers call out to the bumble bees who come and take home their yellow pollen.

The Holistic Orchard book front

Using permaculture terms, we planted a “fruit guild” with our White Oak trees for the top layer, the fruit trees for the middle layer and nitrogen-fixing plants like comfrey, native lupines, daffodils and chives below. And then I added the best material of all; ramial wood chips as the main course for feeding mycorrhizal and saprophytic fungi in an orchard food web that in turn supports our fruit trees.

Fruit tree bed from a distance USE

This is a terrific book and one I highly recommend for anyone who wishes to grow fruit organically. You can locate this book by using this ISBN number; ISBN 978-1-933392-13-4.

I watered our fruit trees and comfrey faithfully all summer and they have gotten off to a good start. We plan to stake and fence in the triangle beds this fall to protect the tender fruit trees from deer, rabbit and any other browsers who might come along and decide they are a good-looking treat! We also feel that fencing and staking them will give us a good visual to work around this first year so we can avoid them in winter playtime, dog ball kicking and snow blowing paths to and from the pole barn.

A few weeks ago, at Phillips recommendation we drove into the state-owned Todd Farm Preserve located about 10 miles from the Small House homestead. We located the sight of several wild apple trees we have visited, and picked from in previous years. We dug up a couple of buckets of soil from under these trees and brought that soil home and “inoculated” our own fruit trees with that soil.

According to Phillips the purpose of inoculation is to both create an orchard soil that ideally contains a fungal presence ten time higher than that of bacteria and because the key to tree vitality is this nutrient exchange between the roots via these fungal helpers and the soil.

In a few weeks I will do a chop and drop of the comfrey leaves so they too can work their magic on the soil around the beds.

We are trying to be as biological as possible with our fruit trees and not spray or use chemicals in any way.

Small House Homesteader, Donna