62 Degrees Sunny and Windy – Photo Diary

  Wow, what a great day on the homestead.

Chickens outside comples and bkue sky USE

Blue sky and white fluffy clouds overlooking the chicken complex.

Gene Rhodies Forge 2-19-16

Gene by the blacksmith forge while the Rhodies scratch in the bark chips.

We enjoyed a lovely sunny and warm day for our mid-winter February thaw. The morning was full of chores; washing clothes, cleaning the stove, making bone broth and more.

Elsaside viewgreat USE

Elsa taking a dust bath.

In spite of the recorded 50+ mile an hour winds our afternoon was spent outside enjoying the chickens.

Elsa dust flying USE

Dirt flies when a chicken takes a dust bath.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring so gotta make hay today!

4 Rhodies in covered run USE

Doors open and the sun shines in the covered run.

HORZ chicken on path USE

Chickens follow the snow blown path around the homestead.

Small House Homesteader, Donna


A Week in Photos Small House Homestead

We had a bit of the January thaw this week. Our weather rose to around 40’s degrees and the sun shone brightly for a few days. We were happy to be able to get our snowbound chickens out of the chicken run for a stroll and a munch on patches of grass that popped up as the snow melted.

Hey lady where are my worms

Crystal says, ‘Hey lady where is the food?’

Our winter has been relatively mild this year with small amounts of snow interspersed with a warmish week in-between. This week the animals certainly enjoyed enjoy our old-fashioned January thaw.

Sunrise hprzontal most pink

A beautiful winter sunrise one day this week on the Small House homestead.

And, I enjoyed a rare opportunity to photographs very pretty sunrise on Saturday morning. I am usually up and at em’ early as our retriever Sassy gets up very early to go outside to the bathroom. My day often begins with the sound of her nails clicking on our linoleum floor and her head pressing down on my arm as her signal, ‘Okay mom its time!’

Sassy 11-18-14

Miss Sassy the snow dog.

Everyday the sun rises but most days I am preoccupied with animals needs or cooking breakfast to actually walk out and concentrate on taking a good a photograph. But luck was with me that day.

Sunrise tree in half interesting for textGreeting The Dawn.

Elsa the fluffy butt

Do these feathers make my butt look big?

After the animals are fed and our breakfast eaten we do our yoga stretches. On this day Sassy was determined to get into the act.

Sassy doing yoga stretches

Sassy and Gene do their yoga stretches.

Circling the fire

The Rhodies circle the wagons.

Crystal bithbat head up USE

Crystal scratching for sunflower seeds under the bird bath

Sassy run three

Sassy gets a good walk everyday.

The chicken monitor

The chicken monitor.

I hope your week was a good one too.

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

Baby Chicks are on Their Way

I just got word that my newest Rhode Island Red chickets are arriving on or about April 20th. Horray!

I am tickled pink to know that at long last I am going to have Rhode Island Reds once again. They were my first chickens and by far my favorites for their hardiness, consistence, rarely go broody and lay the most gorgeous, large brown eggs. They are also heritage chickens and I like to do my part in keeping that lovely breed from going extinct.

Rhodies boost the title of America’s most well-know and popular chicken, though for many years the breed was facing a critical decline in its breeding population. Thanks to the hobby hatcheries and backyard farmers the Rhode island reds is now a popular chickens among small farms and backyards today.

Rhode Island Red Chicks grow to be one of the most productive and useful dual purpose breeds across the country and world today. They have prolific egg production, and they will dress nicely as a table bird. The Rhode Island Red is also one of the most hardy of all dual purpose breeds, and they will thrive in almost any environment they could face in the United States. They have amenable dispositions and are a favorite among 4-H clubs and state fair competitions around the country. Their active disposition, hardy nature, and superb foraging ability helps them thrive in a free range environment as well. Though the breed has become smaller over the last 60 years, they females still weigh over 6 pounds while the males over 8 pounds. The Rhode Island Red Hens are excellent winter egg layers due to their heavier size and hardiness, and they will generally lay between 200-300 per year – perhaps the best dual purpose egg layer in production today. The hens can become broody, though not as frequently as some other breeds like the Buff Orpington. Roosters can become aggressive, and it is generally best not to have more than one rooster for every 8 – 10 hens.

I’m going to be brooding in my laundry room since it faces the south side of the Small House and between the dryer, the freezer and the boiler this room is about the warmest in the house.

Since I only have room for four additional chicks in the coop, I’ll be using a cardboard box until they get big enough to go outside later on in the spring.

The biggest challenge will be Sassy our trained bird dog so we will get out the baby gate and but we will close off the room and hopefully protect the chicks from our sweet but fierce bird chasing dog.

Small House Chicken Keeper, Donna

Walk the Plank!

At long last our chicken coop “gang plank” ladder is now chickie baby friendly!

Chicken door all faces USEjpeg

Gathering their courage our 5-month-old Cochins come out the chicken door and down the ladder.

I have been wanting to get some kind of material down on the chicken ladder (aka gang plank) to help the chickens get in and out the chicken door without slipping and sliding on the slick painted surface. The holiday, our normal workloads and serious construction on the enclosed run area always seemed to take priority.

Plank and coop


Today with our weekly run into town for yoga and groceries we stopped at Tractor Supply to see if they had the horse stall liner material we were considering. I’d asked the members of the on-line Chicken Community what they might suggest and heard a number of great ideas; everything from cutting up an old doormat pieces to trim-able stable liner matt.

Tread on stair after use jpeg


The liner turned out to be way too big of a piece and way too thick to cut down so while we were there the salesperson suggested we try skid guard treads for the stairs. It’s a kind of thick paper with a sand paper like surface that help feet grip. We gave that a try. Gene cut and adhered the tread material and I closed the double door and opened the chicken door and waited.

Skid Grauyrd closs up jpeg

In less than a minute Momma Clover saw that the door was open and out she went! Next came the babies one by one, stumbling, slipping and sliding and pretty much flying out. Well one way –out- was successful Tomorrow we work on teaching them how to go up the ladder and get back in the coop! Every day with chickens is an adventure!

Small House Homesteader and Chicken Keeper, Donna

Enclosure Progress and a Christmas Miracle

Frckels close in leavesWho would have thought that in Michigan we would be outside working on our chicken run the day after Christmas? The weather here in SW Michigan is normally bitter cold in December and we are typically already under several feet of snow by now.

Close Gene measuring USE

The frame is the initial step to building the enclosed run. 

But not this year.  Today was a balmy 48-50 degrees outside and wonderfully sunny. The chickens adore his kind of weather and so do I.

I was able to sit on the ground in their pen, feed them some dried mealworms, play with them and snap some photographs of me feeding them by hand. It was so sunny and warm I was tempted to lie down to take a cat nap but of course I didn’t want to miss anything.

Gene worked more today on building the run enclosure frame. The covered run is connected to the side of our chicken coop and will end up as a simple, wood frame section covered in contractor grade plastic.  It will have a 8 ft. tall corrugated roof to help keep the rain and snow off of it, a 36″ human door and a pop up chicken door.

From north v

The 8 ft. height of the covered run will allow us to walk inside to clean it, shovel in and shovel out.

This fowl-weather run (pun intended!) will give the chickens a bit of shelter from the snow, winds and rain while allowing them to be outside of the coop ranging around and dusting in their own small dust bath box.

From south end of garden

The long view of the chicken coop and run at the southern end of our large fenced-in vegetable garden.

It is a practical addition as opposed to a beautiful one. I will feel more trusting too to let them range alone and not worry about predators or the babies flying up and over the fencing or straw bales as they have a tendency to do.

Cloverground chiks onstump jpeg

The chicklets eating treats from the stump, Momma Cover in front. 

We also were able to hang my two, new, metal chicken signs I received from Gene for Christmas. They came from Bainbridge Farm Goods, Bainbridge Island. They are all I asked for this year and I love them! All of their signs are fully waterproof, UV resistant and mounted on heavy aluminum-think street sign durability and are made in the USA. I received nothing for this mention  – I am just a happy consumer. To see more of their sign art go to http://www.bainbridgefarmgoods.com

Two chicken signs

 Two new metal signs for my chicken coop.

Another piece of good news to share today. If you follow my blog you may recall that Freckles, one of the Phoenix chicks had injured his wing in the Great Chicken Escape. I was quite worried about him at first. However as the weeks progressed he has perked up, the sparkle has come back into his eyes and today he dusted for the first time since the accident. That is certainly progress! I suspect he was hurting those first few weeks as his tail drooped, he ate but he turned his back to the group and did not participate in their social times like bathing. Today that changed.

Freckles eyes open

Freckles during his rehab period dozing in the sun.

His wing still sits a bit lower and is a tad bit crooked when he is flying in and out of the coop but he can now make it on his own without my help. So this new step of dusting with his family tells me his wing is not hurting him anymore.

Frckels close in leaves

Freckles this week, much perkier and almost back to normal.

I am grateful that Freckles is getting stronger again and feeling more like his old self as evidenced by his participating in this important social activity with his brood.

I am relieved too by this sweet evidence of our small Christmas miracle!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

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

Sold a Photograph to Living the Country Life

It was a great mail day today!

I received word today that one of my photographs titled, “The Pool Shack” that I submitted to Living the Country Life magazine (a sister publication of Better Homes & Garden magazine) has been purchased and is going to be used in their magazine during 2015. It will be used in the “Country View” section of the magazine and website.

Pool shack decor in snow USE

This winter view of our homestead was purchased by Living the Country Life magazine.

When the paperwork arrived I realized that they selected it as the “Editors Pick” which means I’ll be paid $100.00 for it. I’m thrilled, not only because it will be published but because I have been saving up for a longer lens for my digital Cannon EOS Rebel T31 camera and this will help.

The image they selected shows the back of our homesteads pool shack that I decorated using a “roadside rescue” (meaning it was free and on the side of the roadway) vintage screen door I painted sage green and used as the centerpiece of my design. It was fun to play with this and even more fun to win the “Send us Your Outbuilding Photographs” contest.

To see the publication or to request a free subscription go to livingthecountylife.com

 This is what I wrote for my submission:

“The back of our pool shack is a canvas that I have decided to use to add some color and visual interest to our garden. The round painted piece is part of a back of a chair and sits inside of a rusty barrel ring. The three brown items on the left hand side are rusty tools parts. The screen door was a “roadside rescue” that I found along the side of the roadway. I brought it home, painted it sage green and hung it on the cedar frame to add interest and color. I am always happy when I walk that way and see this 3D collage.”

This sale takes me back to my publishing roots when I use to take photographs and write human interest feature stories for newspapers.

That was a fun job that I always loved. Who would not love being paid to travel around our beautiful state, meet new people, get invited into their homes and lives and use words and pictures to tell their story. Kind of like keeping a blog, right? 

Thanks for reading and for following.

Small House Homesteader, Donna






Sunshine on the Homestead

Our temps started out real cold this week, down to -25 and windy. Brrr. But lately we’ve been having much more moderate temps, sunshine and we’re maybe going to hit above 35 today. A nice break in the weather. Translated, that means we’re getting more done around here because we can stand to work outside.

Keep you eye on he sky USE

Clover says keep your eyes on the sky!

This morning was devoted to doing a load of laundry, washing the last two picture windows of our Ranch home that were missed in the last round of window washing as well as washing the light fixtures over the kitchen bar area (they get so dusty and greasy from cooking). We will then have a planning session in the chicken run to work out the details for a covered run project.

Clover where did those worms come from

Where did those worms come from?

After the great chicken escape last week I’m reluctant to let the chickens out for a true free range without some kind of protection or supervision. I’m hoping we can come up with a suitable plan. Gene wants to do a “temporary” cover and I figure if we are spending the time, energy and money make it permanent. I’ll keep you posted as to who will win this decision!!

Clover funnyone baby on knee USE

Hey I’m the top chicken here, move over girl!

Gene is waxing my Subaru in a friend’s heated barn this afternoon while I am cooking up squash and sweet potatoes. We prefer to wax our vehicles spring and fall but this year that chore just plain got away from us. We are now playing catch-up.

Clover eyeing me baby on knee

For meal worms, my favorite treat, I’ll put up with that strange women and her knees.

We have a special yoga event this Friday and we are both very excited about it. We will have one teacher teaching a short breathing meditation, a second teacher giving us a crystal singing bowls event and our regular teacher will teach us an hour of restorative yoga. This will be followed by a group holiday potluck. much to Gene’s excitement.

So today I am making one of our favorite soups; sweet potato, kale and sausage soup for the potluck. This just might be my husband’s favorite soup of all.

The original recipe came from a favorite book, This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, Joan Dye Gussow. Of course, I adapted her recipe and made it my own. This was a transformative book for me because this was the first time I read about “eating local” and that it was a privilege not a sacrifice. In fact, it was this book that helped to lead me to our homestead today.

I grow most of the ingredients like tomatoes, beans and kale from our garden but I left the recipe to include anything pre-package in case you do not.

Sweet Potato, Sausage and Kale Soup

(Adapted originally from This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, Joan Dye Gussow

This soup was originally a Portuguese tradition and I add some of my favorite ingredients that I have adapted over the years.


2 tablespoons olive oil

Click to see savings

4 cups chopped onion (about 2 large)

Click to see savings

1 teaspoon sea salt (I use just a small pinch)

Click to see savings

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

½ teaspoon fennel seeds

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1/teaspoon nutmeg

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

Rosemary to taste (try ½ to 1 Tablespoon to start)

1 pound sweet turkey Italian sausage (or whatever sausage you like)

Click to see savings

8 cups coarsely chopped peeled sweet potato (about 2 1/4 pounds or 6 large potatoes)

2 cups of cabbage

Click to see savings

5 cups water

4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

I also add 5 or 6 chicken bouillon cubes

Click to see savings

1 (16-ounce) package pre-washed torn kale

Parsley to taste (I used about two heaping tablespoons)

Click to see savings

1 (16-ounce) can cannelloni beans or other white beans, rinsed and drained

1 (16 oz. canned tomato) or homegrown/frozen

(I also like to add chunks of cooked/boiled Butternut squash to my soup. (It’s filled with fiber and I love it in my soups.)

Click to see savings


  1. Boil sweet potatoes and drain.
  2. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
  3. Add onion; sauté 10-15 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, pepper, rosemary and garlic; sauté 1 minute. Remove casings from sausage; add sausage to pan. Cook 5 minutes or until sausage is lightly browned, stirring to crumble.
  4. Add potatoes, 5 cups water, and broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 8 minutes. Gradually add kale; cook 10 minutes or until tender.
  5. Stir in remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and beans (squash and any other ingredients above)
  6. Transfer to a crock pot and finish cooking and blending all flavors

This afternoon I sat in the chicken run and played with the babies. I put meal worms on my legs and they jumped up to eat them. I took as many pictures as I could get. Clover won the award for the funniest hen today. Such inquisitive and humorous looks on her face!

Adventures in chicken keeping is the best way to spend an afternoon.

Small house Homestead Chicken Keeper, Donna


Using Oak and Maple Leaves on the Homestead

Using leaves on the Small House homestead is Permaculture gardening at its finest….waste nothing!

Benna & Grandpa basket backs USEjpeg

Grand daughter Brenna and grandpa Gene, with their pack-baskets taking a walk down the leaf strewn path in our 15 acre woods.

I love using dry leaves in my chicken coop, garden and our wooded trails paths as well. They are free for the taking and this natural and holistic system just plain works well.

Back of compost close USE

Our compost bin is surrounded by leaves which help keep the weeds down to a minimum.

I prefer the oak leaves in the coop and on the wooded trails (we have 47 White Oak Trees) since it takes them a long time to break down. I use my son’s maple leaves for our garden beds because they do break down quickly and over the winter they break up and start to turn into wonderful soil by summer. I use more oak leaves in the vegetable garden on the pathways and edges to keep down the weeds.

Sassy looking use

Layers of leaves help to kill the weeds in our vegetable garden and give the chickens a great place to scratch for worms and bugs.

Today I added more dry oak leaves to my chicken coop’s deep litter. My husband sweep out the pole barn yesterday and swept up a couple of buckets full of leaves in the clean up process. I just make sure they are very dry.

Chickens interesting poseUSE

Clover and babies – chicken scratching on the farm!

The chickens love to scratch through them too!

Donna from the Small House Homestead