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

Perfect Fall Weather

The days in SW Michigan have been outstanding this week. It’s been warm and sunny with low humidity and cool nights for easy sleeping. This has been the “keep the windows open” kind of weather. To me that is the perfect fall week weather-wise. The dogwoods leaves are turning red, the apples are falling and we are rounding the corner on another summer growing season.

Yesterday we finally got the forth, and final, water containment tote connected. The hold-up was a piece of plumbing that was not available in the stores. After weeks of stopping into Menard’s every Monday (our one in-town day), Gene finally found a way to “jury rig” another piece to work. Now when the fall rains begin later on this month all four totes will be collecting rain water. Getting this tote hooked up is a good thing too because we have been doing quite a bit of shrub, vine and perennial transplanting (and watering) of late.

4 275 gallon totes

Less wasted water off of our pole barn roof and more available to use.

Gene made a change in the input downspout on this batch of totes. Instead of using the flexible piece as his did on the first set-up, he choose this time to use a rigid downspout input pipe.

Rigid hose

We are testing the rigid input pipe on the two new 275 water totes.

Gene made this decision because 1) He felt the rigid pipe was easier to install and 2) He hopes it will have less clogging issues.

Flexible input hose

The flexible hose from the first two totes. You can see the difference.

If you follow this blog you know how I feel about animals; chicken, dog, horses…just love them all. And you know about my passion to feed healthy food and herbs to all of my critters. Today I found this wonderful chart created by the


Today I also did a very through clean out/washout of the refrigerator. Chores like that tend to get away from me during the busy summer months and it sure feels good to have that big task complete.

I also baked a wonderful Amish chicken with all the fixin’s; carrots, onions, cabbage, tomatoes and sweet potatoes. We ate this meal for lunch and will enjoy a chicken salad in a homemade pita bread next time followed by homemade chicken, vegetable, brown rice soup. Fall food for sure!

I don’t say this often enough and for that I am remiss. I am so glad you chose to open this email. I hope I tell you enough that it means a lot to me.  I realize that there are so many blog writers offering newsletters each week.  Thank you for joining me here for a few minutes each week.

Small House homesteader, Donna

Preparing for Two More Rainwater Containment Totes

We had an inch of rain on Sunday in our Zone 5b garden. And just in time to capture that rain in our new water totes.

Gene digging and two totes to RHS USE

Our two totes sit on the east side of our pole barn taking advantage of the rain water that runs off of our metal pole barn roof.

We began the process of making the area ready for two more water totes this weekend. This means raking out oak leaves (they went onto the vegetable garden paths), old wood chunks (they went onto the fire) and soil had to be dug out and roots chopped up. As a permaculture homestead we try hard to have nothing go to waste or end up in the landfill.

Stumpand area dug out for wooden base

The leaves have been removed and the soil has been shoveled out.

You may remember reading about our totes system before. You can find that post here.…one-year-later/

Our two water totes have been filling up 2 and ¾ times the past two summers. We have been very happy with how they have performed and have decided to add two more totes to our collection. We have the perfect set-up here on the Small House Homestead; a large pole barn with a metal roof and ample spring and fall rains.

Meaasuring and sassy USE

Gene is measuring the length of the gutter needed. Sassy is his assistant.

Not only does this mean no water is wasted by simply pouring off the pole barn roof and going into the ground, we save electricity and wear and tear on the water pump every time we water using the water from these totes. We raised them several feet off the ground using a roadside rescue wooden beams that we found with a “free” sign on them. Using gravity feed and a simple rubber garden hose we get enough water to trickle out of the totes, go through the hose and onto our shrubs, trees or plants to soak them at the drip line. It’s a low energy use process;  I just set a kitchen timer and move the hose from time to time.

Sassy close USE

Our Lab Sassy enjoys a beef bone while keeping Gene company.

According to an article “12 Tips for a Water Wise Garden” in the Fall 2015 Issue of Herb Quarterly, shares that a 1,000 sq. ft. roof will yield a whopping 625 gallons of water from one inch of rain.

Menards check out station USE

I picked up cement blocks at Menard’s for the totes raised base.

Water is a critical element on your homestead and in your garden. Our set-up costs us less than $200.00 upfront. This is a easy way to save money on your electric bill and in some communities on your water bill as well. My son who lives in Portland, Oregon pays almost $60.00 a month on his water bill! Outrageous!

Low tech, ecological, conservation of water and easy to accomplish with some planning and forethought!

Small House Homesteader, Donna

My Piece in The New Pioneer Magazine Is Published

My article and three photographs about our rainwater catchments system has been published in The New Pioneer magazine, Summer issue 2015. I wrote about it first on my blog here…

New Pioneer Cover Summer 2015

Although I have known about this since last winter when I received my acceptance, is always a thrill to open the magazine and find something you have created in it.

I like how they titled it Raincatcher System. Pretty cleaver huh?

This guide to self-reliant living is now available on newsstands everywhere. Since this is a niche market, I’d try Tractor Supply for a copy first. Or order it on-line at This is a quarterly publication and sells for $24.97 for one years subscription.

Small House homesteader and freelance writer, Donna


Bark Chips, Field Stones and Lupines, Oh My!

Yesterday we had a family graduation in town. Our “adopted” nephew Mathew graduated from his Christian high school and we were celebrating.

Group house in rer USE

Native lupines shine at the Small House Homestead

While we were in the area, I picked up my two special ordered flats of native Lupines from Hidden  Savannah Nursery. One of my favorite nurseries, this place specialized in native plants. My favorite kind!

The ideal would have been to come right home and plant like a banshee because rain was predicted for the following day but I was just too tired. I’d been up working in the garden and with the chicken since 5 a.m. and then on the road by noon. But I was up and planting by first light today and planted about half of my new plants in the ground before the rain began.

Lupine really close USE

A close up show the pea like quality of our native lupines.

You may recall my earlier posting “In Love with Lupines” when I explained how I started planting native lupines n our property in 2009 after testing 40 plants that I bought from the same nursery through the Allegan County Extension plant sale.

Lupines in Saburu trunk USE

Lupine and tomatoes fill the truck of my Subaru this weekend.

Showy, elongated clusters of pea like flowers that tops the 1 to 2 ft. stems, this native perennial features blue, pea-like flowers in an upright, elongated terminal cluster on an erect stem. The blooming period is from late spring to early summer and last for about a month.

Foreground in focus rear blurred USE

Lovely lupines are definitely the star of the native plantings in our cottage -style garden.

Lupines grow best in sandy soil, in the full sun where the tall grasses and shrubs are minimal.  It is best to plant them while dormant in the spring or the fall.  I plant them with the buds 1” deep below the soils surface and space about 1 foot apart. I also like to plant in grouping of three for interest when in bloom.

trowel perfect USE

I recently extended the original bed filled with three White Pines, stones and lupines.

This plant was once thought to deplete the mineral content from the soil but actually the plant enhances the soil fertility by fixing atmospheric nitrogen into a useful form by and fixing it into the soil. They bloom blue or purple from April through July, depending on your geographic area and USDA zone.

Their growing conditions are sun, part sun, dry to moist sandy soil with an acidic pH of 6.8to 7.2. Very good drainage is needed but the plants are adaptable once established. It is considered a water-wise plant so planting Lupines offer beauty with water conservation efforts as well.


bed and pole barn USE

This is the view that greets our guests and family as they pull into our pole barn driveway.

This plant attacks butterflies and hummingbirds and is the larval host for the Karen Blue butterfly that is a protected species. This plant is also of special value to native bees. And bumble bees.

This is propagated from dry treated seeds in the spring. Does not transplant well due to its long, tap-root. The lupine is tricky to propagate as the seeds must be scarified, inoculated and then needs moist stratification for 10 days. Soil should be inoculated before sowing the seeds.

Lupines in flat looking down USE

I buy my lupines in cells from a native plant propagator.

This is a plant has very few if any pest problems associated with it.

I live on the edge of a sandy oak savannah forest parcel called The Allegan Forest and I happen to have the right soil conditions for this plant. Because of stabilized sand dunes and power line clearance in sandy area this is becoming a rare and uncommon plant in many places. Lupines and leaves in the landscapeField stones, bark chips and lupines…oh my!

I have a dream of a front yard overflowing with gorgeous masses of purple lupines. Each year I add a flat or two to my garden and many seeds blow, re-seed and pop up throughout our property much to my delight.

4 panels lupines jpeg 2015 BEST joeg

Everybody loves lupines!

Small House homesteader and gardener, Donna

Monday-Fun-Day… Going into Town Day

Monday is our going into town day. Anyone who lives rurally, homesteading or not, understands what going into town for the day means. This means a long list of errands in hand – and a long day on the road getting them done.

images[10]  Vintage restored store front in South Haven, Michigan.   

This is something that those who long to homestead in a rural place need to understand up front. Now while it can be fun to go to town and see people again, it also means chores do not get done that day or they get done later in the day after everything is done too. And a long day on the road is exhausting when you are our age.


The South Haven Lighthouse on lake Michigan.

I come home and start putting away groceries, throw in a load of wash and start our next meal. Gene, at age 70, goes and lies down and takes a nap!

Monday is our yoga day. This is the day we also run our errands, buy our groceries, have lunch with our friends and generally get things accomplished. It also means “Shopping Locally.” Something that is very important to me as a life-long small business owner. For most of my adulthood, I asked people to buy products and services from me, so in return I now buy from them.  Fair is fair.


A stained glass window at the Church where we take our yoga class.

This week going into town meant, a trip to Tractor Supply to buy Grower Feed and red heat lights for the anticipated Rhode Island Red chicks that are arriving on April 20th, checking out a stack of books from the library, stopping in to the local health food store to buy 5 lbs. of raw honey, filling up the car with gas and, because the day was sunny and warmish, popping into the local dollar car wash and hosing off the salt from the Subaru.


A downtown mural honors the fruits and vegetable heritage of this rural area.

Some homesteaders and ranchers I know drive 6 miles just to get to the mailbox, while others make three hours trip to town. We drive just 20 minutes to and from but it might as well be across the island bridge for what it takes out of us.


Another downtown view of quaint small town South Haven, Michigan.

When I made a commitment to the Earth to protect its dwindling natural resources, I made a serious commitment to driving less. I committed to using just one tank of gas a month. For me that mean just two trips out of my pole barn a week. Once trip is to go to town on Mondays and the second one is on Tuesday when I drive about 10 miles each way to a volunteer to feed the horses. That’s it for me.

Monthly we also throw in there a month to the big city…which for us is Holland, MI, a 45 minutes’ drive for us along the lakeshore. This day mean visiting the feed store, a doctors or dentist visit, a trip to Sam’s Club, managing repairs, or meeting our granddaughter half way for lunch and a play date. That is always another long day on the road. Thank goodness it is only every month or two. (Not the granddaughter parts just the errand part as I’d take her every weekend if I could!)

I imagine this is unusual in this day and age and I still have trouble with my husband agreeing to this as he is much more of a goer than I. He drives out every day in his truck to run our Labrador in the Allegan Forest or at the Todd Farm Sanctuary. And, twice a week he drive’s into South Haven  for his part-time work at Menard’s. In the old days he was running to and from the mall, the church and friend’s houses and every weekend he drove Up North to Baldwin to camp and fish.

.Apparently he is more social that I am! It’s just that he is not as committed to fewer less fossil fuel than I am. He a good man, but he just has a bit more trouble sublimating his “wants” in order to meet a moral or ethical goal that means something to me.

I guess I am a much more stay a home person than he is. I admit that in the early years it has been a challenge but I have trained myself to be more content here at home.  And I am glad of that now.

When we moved here we basically created a place with everything that we needed; our work, my art studio, Gene’s blacksmith forge our land, swimming pool and gardens. We have our Labrador Sassy, my chickens, trails in our woods to walk in and the Allegan Forest not 10 miles away from our backdoor.

Besides our health and each other, we really do not need much more.

Small House Homesteader, Donna



Ditch Flowers – From Dark Days to a Wildflower Bonanza


 Our home in the middle of a marsh or maybe it actually qualified as a small lake?

Those of you who have followed this blog or its predecessor, The Small House Under a Big might remember my post about our years of ground water flooding. It was a very stressful time for me in which after four years of serious flooding, I began to despair over ever having my old life back.


We lost our trees so that these cement drainage pipes could be put in to move the water away.

Not only did we lives in a marsh of mosquitoes for months at a time and had to wear full mosquitos gear (face nets, gloves, long pants and sleeves and knee-high boots) to go outside and walk our dogs. We lost thousands of dollars of perennials, shrubs, fruit trees, and personal belongings from our pole barn and the cement foundation in our barn due to flood pressure. (No, nothing is covered by insurance in high ground water flooding situations.)


The roadway beside our home. You can see why we had no choice in order to save our home!

And we had to pump out our crawl space, 24/7 for months at a time and someone had to be home at all times and that someone was often me. I was not sleeping and when I did drift off in exhaustion, I would wake at night after having nightmares of my home floating away in flood. I also became very sick from the high levels mold and mildew in our leaf mold mulch surround our homestead.  And we could not plant our vegetable garden for four springs and when we finally could, I found all of our good soil washed away. Please believe me when I say, it was a totally depressing period!


The flood at its peak covered our sidewalk, killed our crabapple tree and rotted hundred of daffodil bulbs planted below it.

Prior to the ditch being dug and our beloved 100-year-old trees cut down to make way for big equipment (I cried!) I had to dig up and pot hundreds of plants and keep them alive for two years until they could be replanted. Many, like the native deep-rooted purple lupines cannot be transplanted and all were lost. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Twenty-five-feet of our trees and shrubs had to be removed to make way for the ditching project and the heavy equipment it took to do the work.

My gardening style is loose, full and cottage like – no perfectly groomed rows of shrubs for me. I prefer native plants as pollinators because its better for the ecosystem and because they just live better with less work and less watering needed.


This is my wild  & flowing cottage gardening style next to the driveway of our 1950’s ranch style home.

Once the ditches were installed they were so barren and ugly I cried, again. I missed my majestic White Oak trees, dogwoods, lupines and my beautiful yard and garden. At that point I was willing to try anything to boost my spirits.


This is our wood lot where we had many native dogwood trees that bloom each spring. This tree line was so beautiful in the early spring but they are all gone now due to the counties easement area of 25 feet to make way for the ditches.

In desperation I began to throw wildflowers seeds into the ditch a section at a time. I have a lot of Brown Eyed Susan’s that I cut back in the fall so these became one of the primary seeds that I threw into the ditch. Any seeds that might take were thrown into the ditch several years running.

Two layers ditch flowers

 The Brown-Eyed Susan’s and wild carrots, goldenrod and others plants ablaze in our ditch.

This is the result of that Johnny Appleseed approach to making the ditch prettier!  After the darkest of days comes…a wildflower bonanza!

Small House Homestead and gardener, Donna

House -ditch Black Eyed Susans