Posted by: Small House Under a Big Sky | November 20, 2014

Homesteading as a Lifestyle Choice

Homesteading as a Lifestyle Choice.

Posted by: Small House Under a Big Sky | November 18, 2014

Cold Snap on the Homestead -Dealing with Chickens

Cold Snap on the Homestead -Dealing with Chickens.

Posted by: Small House Under a Big Sky | November 4, 2014

Letter Regarding Michigan and the Environment

Small House Under a Big Sky:

Do you care about the air, water and soil of our Michigan?

Originally posted on Michigan Land Air Water Defense:


I am very concerned with the path that Michigan has chosen to take in regards to our environment which affects our quality of life and health.  I would like to list a few issues that have made the news in the past few years.  We have accepted Canada’s trash, dumping of petroleum coke in Detroit, poor monitoring of the Enbridge Pipeline leading to the largest inland oil spill in the U. S, allowing runoff into Lake Erie causing “blue green algae” or cyanobacteria, radioactive leaks into Lake Michigan from an energy plant, allowing record setting use  and destruction of fresh water to drill for oil, acceptance of low-level radioactive sludge from Pennsylvania oil and gas drilling (as a result of public outcry, the latest shipment was suspended pending review by the DEQ, but a facility near Belleville is licensed to accept this waste and has done so in the…

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Posted by: Small House Under a Big Sky | October 25, 2014

Foraging for Autumn Olives

Small House Under a Big Sky:

This was avery timely post for me. I had been wanting to try my hand at some fruit leathers and the autumn olives are ripe are all around us right now! Donna at the Small House Homestead

Originally posted on Family Yields:

On Thanksgiving weekend each year we forage for Autumn Olives.  They are an invasive species where we live, and can be found in abundance all around our area.  We have particular places we always go, and favourite bushes to pick from.  They can sometimes have a chalky, acrid aftertaste which can be unpleasant, so I am always the taste tester!  The boys love the berries, and we had to stop them from eating what we’d already picked.

This year we did some picking with the kids and my parents, then headed back to their house for a lovely harvest meal of zucchini soup, bread, quinoa salad, and my aunt and uncle’s eggs.  It was a lovely Thanksgiving morning.   My parents were gracious enough to watch the boys while the baby slept so that we could go back out and harvest more.

Last night we cleaned and picked over the berries…

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Posted by: Small House Under a Big Sky | September 17, 2014

Scrambled Eggs with Turmeric and Black Pepper

Originally posted on Monamifood:

Scrambled Eggs with Turmeric and Black Pepper

Scrambled Eggs with (fresh) Turmeric and Black Pepper

Turmeric has anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-oxidant benefits. And since turmeric, especially when raw, does not add much flavor, I throw a little bit of turmeric into a lot of different recipes!

And when I add turmeric, I always add freshly ground black pepper. That’s because black pepper facilitates the body’s absorption of turmeric. And you have to absorb the nutrients in food before you can benefit from the nutrients! For more about the importance of combining turmeric and black pepper, see the Q & A with Dr. Andrew Weil.

For practical information about turmeric’s health benefits, and some cautions for people on chemotherapy, see:

For scientific details and research about turmeric, see:

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Posted by: Small House Under a Big Sky | September 17, 2014

Driveway Makeover and the Value of Pay as You Go.

Originally posted on The Small House Homestead:

We resealed the Small House’s driveway in early September as part of our homes fall makeover and on-going property maintenance. Our roof was re-shingled about the same time. I just love how fresh and new the roof and our home now looks.

I know that roofing is an expensive homestead project but also know that it is one that is worth the effort and money for our homes values and our comfort. I now breathe a huge sigh of relief knowing I won’t be facing any more leaks this winter.

This is a kind of “replay” on our driveway since we tore out the old one and put down a whole new driveway shortly after we first moved to our homestead in October of 2000. The asphalt needs to be resealed about every 6 years or so.

My first priority after moving here (besides a new water heater and paint) was to build and install my new…

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Posted by: Small House Under a Big Sky | April 22, 2014

Rainwater Totes Connected

We were able to get our 275-gallon, food grade, IBC water totes connected to the pole barn roof this week. These two large totes will capture the rain water that might otherwise run off the pole barn roof and into the ground and hold it for use later on in the gardening season. This is an affordable way of collecting and conserving the precious rain water we get here in SW Michigan.

Water collection side use jpeg

The totes are connected to the roof by using a 20 ft. length of eve’s trough, some PVC pipe, a few connectors, a couple of valves and some repurposed wood we picked up for free for a base.

We get a fair amount of seasonal rains here in SW Michigan with long periods of drought in between and I have long wished for a way to capture this precious water.

Brown downspout and brown tub

The average annual rainfall in Michigan is typically 33.15 inches which mostly arrive in the spring and in the fall. We, however, live in a pocket that is inland about 17 miles from Lake Michigan and all too often the rain goes up an over us. This means while our neighboring communities get the rainfall, we often do not.

The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting droughty weather patterns in the Midwest this summer and I am happy to be proactive and have some water set aside in the case this does happen. No matter what Mother Nature gives us, this collected water will be used on thirsty vegetables, flowers, shrubs and the like.

While I’ve dreamed about an in the ground cistern and several of the large tubular metal collection system I see in books, $500.00 per unit is beyond our means.

So when I saw these heavy-duty totes advertised for $60.00 each, I knew this might be the way for us to get our rain barrels. Add a 20 ft. length of eve’s trough, some PVC pipe, a few connectors, a couple of valves and some repurposed wood we picked up for free for a base and we have a system that will work for us.

If you are in the market, be sure that you purchase “food grade” totes only for watering for your garden. I am told that some are sold have had fertilizer and other non-food materials in them. Ours have a label on the front that says, “Food Grade Molasses” and “Food Grade Honey.”

Small House / Big Sky Donna

Posted by: Small House Under a Big Sky | April 2, 2014

Free to Frugal Raised Garden Beds

There are so many varied ways to make raised garden beds today, including free to frugal to pricy, that so many options makes my head spin. And just today, I read about another popular one; using heat treated pallet wood (look for the HT stamp on the wood) to build them. Wow, so much amazing creativity out  there.

Here’s that approach I am using for raised beds at the Small House Under a Big Sky:

STONES: Some of my beds are raised using medium sized stone I have collected from farmers’ fields and along the roadsides over the years. They have been filled with soil and bark chips to raise them slightly. This is a rustic cottage garden look that I enjoy.

Birdbed stone raised bed east

I raised our bird feeding bed using field stones, soil and bark chips.

If you follow my blog, http:/smallhouseunderabigsky you know that we had some SERIOUS flooding here on our land in SW Michigan. I lost a lot of my landscaping due to plants sitting under water for months at a time. However, the raised bed area almost all survived! As a result, I’m now a big fan of raised beds for this and for all the other reasons (the soil heats up quicker and stays drier, less bending so easier to plant and harvest and so on.)

They really do not have to be as raised as you might think in order to be effective.

CEDAR: One spring that we were feeling flush, we bought these cedar boards and build two large beds for newly planted strawberries plants. Through the years they have been “nursery beds” for small plants that need to grow more before being transplanted into their permanent places. These cedar edged beds are now being used for butterfly bushes and various perennials.

Cedar raised bed

Two layers of cedar boards are expensive but last a very ling time. These have been in use for 11 years so far.

RAILROAD TIES: These repurposed railroad ties were here on our property when we moved in. We moved them to a sunny location and repurposed them for our use. These are very old (at least 20 years) and most likely no longer carry any creosote but that is something you should watch out for if you desire to use them for food. When the White Oak Gallery was open, they held a colorful cutting garden and now are planted with more butterfly bushes, forsythia plants I have created from cuttings and flowering perennials.


Repurpose railroads ties hold butterfly bushes and other shrubs and perennial plants.

LOGS: last fall I needed to get some temporary beds quickly set up quickly in the fenced in vegetable garden. Ideally I would have liked for my husband to have built me some permanent cedar beds but there wasn’t time. So I went into the woods and to the firewood pile and selected some long logs that had not yet been cut down to fireplace size. I added my homemade compost and leaves and tada….I had some temporary raised beds. I’ll be moving these beds around as I recreate the vegetable garden design and rebuild the chicken house, so temporary was a good idea after all.

Leaf beds nice use

Log sections make a quick and cheap raised bed too.

BRICKS: These brick planters along side of our house driveway were here when we moved in. I would never had built them but since they were already built I am using them for perennials plants to bring color to the front of our home.


Brick planters hold sun loving plants along the roadside in front of our home.

If you want to see a great curated version of raised beds from pallets, go to this Hometalk link for some great ideas

Small House / Big Sky Donna


Posted by: Small House Under a Big Sky | April 1, 2014

Flea Market Styling my Outbuildings

I really like to decorate and add year-round interest in my garden. So I’m always on the lookout for unique and affordable outdoor items with extra creative potential. I require sturdy metal objects that will hold up in our wild and wooly weather here in SW Michigan. This winter I found some potential “accessories” at resale shops to “junk up’ my granddaughters playhouse and our small pool house storage shack.

TIN CEILING REPLICA: This tin piece was a resale shop buy for just $9.99. As soon as I saw it I knew I wanted to hang it on the diagonal on the pool house roof line above the south-facing trellis. It fills the space nicely and can be seen at a distance – another one of my “okay to buy it” criteria.

Pool house final snow

Even though we still have snow on the ground we were able to hang the tin ceiling replica on the pool house today. Once the climber begins to bloom again, the country garden look will be enhanced.

I’ve been thinking I might want to paint them in bright colors or leave them the creamy white color they were when I found them. Ultimately I decided to leave them cream since my sundial and fence panel are also white. I also feel that the consistent neutral tone in these items allows the flowers and foliage to shine through.

Pool house ladder before USE

The cedar sided pool house “before.”

Finally today dawned warm and sunny (at long last!) and we were able to put several of those items up and in their now location.

MAILBOX: First I found a $9.99 mailbox for my granddaughter’s playhouse. I have been looking for one of these for some years. I see us leaving little notes for each other and treasures in this mailbox – just for fun and to make some great playtime memories.

Box and railing before use

The playhouse railing “before.”

Gene positioning nice

Beginning the install of the mailbox.

mailbox and drill use

The resale shop mailbox.

PLATE RACK TURNED TRELLIS: Most people use a plate rack like this to hang plates. But my plan is to nestle this into the soil next to my grand daughters playhouse as a narrow trellis to hold a climbing plant.

Plate rack close up before jpeg

When I saw this plate rack I thought I could use this as a decorative trellis to hold a climber.

Plate rack on playhouse before jpeg

Less costly than a wooden trellis this will give the playhouse a unique look and a functional way to hold a climber.

I can’t garden just yet but I can begin to plan, dream and work my way there!

Small House / Big Sky Donna

Posted by: Small House Under a Big Sky | March 22, 2014

Our Garden Habitat for the Love of Songbirds

Most homeowners in our rural SW Michigan area have a landscape that is mostly mowed grass. Apparently they do not believe in landscaping at all as those large swaths of grass comes right up next to the house and offers no flowers, shrubs or evergreens. Boring!

I suspect that they think this is easier to maintain than landscaping but they also do not realize how much serious air pollution is caused using gas run lawn tractors and that an estimated 17 million gallons of gasoline are spilled refueling lawn equipment in the U.S. every year, releasing harmful fumes into the air and contaminating our ground water.


A view of our back woodlot in the fall when the sassafras leaves are beginning to turn their beautiful fall colors.

Visually our property is not at all traditional for our geographic area; which is mainly mowed grass bordered by woodlots. Instead of the typical country property where grass is king, we have large swaths of curving garden beds, a wild flower meadow, a large fenced in vegetable garden area and woodland with paths snaking through the 15-acre wood lot behind our home. Because of the former owners of this land who voted to save the majestic White Oak trees,  our hard work and my desire for beauty and habitat, our garden looks more like a fancy park than your typical rural homestead.


A slice of our landscape includes raised beds, our in-the-ground pool bordered by the forest edge. A row of ornamental grasses with tall plumes line the back side of the pools chain link fence.

Our land on the other hand is an ever-changing, free-flowing organic adventure!


In 2003 it was a very good year for the crabapple tree. This is a tree the songbirds love!

Our 5-acre corner lot was once part of the Oak Savanna Woodland that we are slowly turning into a wild habitat area for the birds. Unlike the plants for the prairies and dune land gardens (which demands a sunny location) or the woodland garden (where exiting shade is necessary for plants to do well) The Savanna and its plants bridge the gap between these two extremes. The wildflowers, grasses, and sedges of this garden type can be planted in the full sun; but they can also take the dappled shade created by mature trees.

How did we create this habitat? Though it took a lot of time and energy the plan was simple and straightforward – we protect and preserve our trees and evergreens, add blue bird houses and merely stopped mowing sections of grass and put down bark chips to build soil and create garden beds. Then we choose to plant native perennials, shrubs and trees. We are a zone 5 garden, with part sun and part shade. Our original soil is sandy fill turned loam and it supports the native and dry land species that I plant here.

My goal is to build suitable habitat for the birds,  insects and wildlife we support here. Habitat, along with food, water and nesting sites is one of the most important elements of bringing birds to the landscape.

  1. hab·i·tat noun: habitat; plural noun: habitats -the natural home or environment of an animal, plant, or other organism.


Our bird feeding bed was designed with the songbirds in mind. I planted fruit bearing shrubs for bird to land on, eat from and feel safe in. I added staked bird feeders, a bird bath, suet feeders and tall ornamental grasses and perennials to hide the bird seed mess on the ground. Heavily mulched with bark chips the mulch brings the worms and the worms brings the ground feeding birds We call this garden bed the bird B & B!



The meadow habit is a large oval space that was at one time mowed lawn that we allowed to grow up.  As I mentioned earlier, habitat is the number most important element of bringing birds to our land and this meadow acts as an edge between the mowed sections and the woods beyond it. Birds love that edge. Tall grasses, insects and a canopy of trees are a big draw for birds here as is the plant life of native and prairie plants that function is a transition from our yard to the woods beyond.


The meadow in its very early years and in the early spring. Gene’s blacksmith forge is the building in the distance. To the far left is our composting station.

It’s actually really simple; Stop mowing and let the grass grow up. Then mulch with bark chips and maple leaves to create a rich loam soil. Lastly I dug out and planted an 8 ft. boarder around the outside of the meadow perimeter to create a flower bed.


The meadow now. The tall yellow plant to the left is the native cup plant.

The way my meadow works is layered from back to front. In the back you’ll find taller, native shrubs like Viburnum, St. John’s Wort’s, Forsythia and Burning Bush and tall perennials such as; culvers root, obedient plant, cup plant, goldenrod and more. . The middle is a layer of tall native perennials like cup plant, yellow loosestrife, white boneset, yarrow, goldenrod, white asters, spiderworts, wild bergamot, wild columbine, and ornamental grasses that are planted in front of the shrubs. The foreground consists of daylilies, daisy’s, shorter Forbes, autumn sedum joy, spiderworts, malaria, blazing star, pink cone flowers, black-eyed Susan’s, and more. Eventually I plan to add more evergreens to the mix and a few nut trees in the sunny meadow but since they are expensive it will be awhile until that happens.

Not only does this wild meadow costs less to maintain than mowing, it uses much less fossil fuels and creates much less air pollution which benefits the humans in this mix too. This meadow provides a wonderful habitat for birds, insects, butterflies, frogs, toads, snakes and mammals.

We use no chemicals, no herbicides; just the labor of digging out or smothering weeds and invasive with leaves restoring one area at a time.


Over the years our raised cedar beds have held everything from strawberries plants to perennials. Currently they grow butterfly shrubs, forsythia, gaillardia flowers and a mix of perennials and shrubs that I have propagated. These small shrubs and flowering plants are growing here short-term and will be moved elsewhere when they reach a viable size.


A raised bed filled with butterfly bushes and mulched by bark chips.

In the summer months I add several metal garden sculpture items for added interest; a painted sundial and a metal piece to hold a climbing vine. Some summers I plop a purple painted metal chair in this bed for more color and interest.


The herb bed is made out of old railroad ties that were on our property when we moved here. The herbs we grow are sage, fennel, yarrow, chives, artemisia, and lavender. Recently I added an old metal dog gate to this bed that was given to me by a friend as a piece of “garden art.” I planted a purple butterfly bush behind it for a bit of color and form and this year I plan to add a flowering clematis vine to grow up the gate and add another splash of color. A bird bath helps to draw the birds to this bed in the summer months.


Our raised herb bed with bird bath and dog gate as ornament.


We mow a curving pathway through the meadow leading into the woods beyond. We walk this path almost every day as we walk our dog into the wood behind us. This land belongs to our neighbor who has given us permission to walk here and in return we help to maintain the paths; picking up sticks and branches and dumping our oak leaves on the pathway to keep the weeds at bay. The woods also include thickets and brush piles for the wildlife who feed and nest here.


A 2001 view of our wood lot with Sassafras trees in the fall.

Our property has been certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation and is recognized as a Monarch Way Station.


Once you have created and certified your Monarch Waystation habitat you become eligible to display a weatherproof sign that identifies your monarch habitat as an official Monarch Waystation.


These are the birds that frequent our property include; eastern bluebird, blue jay, brown headed cowbird, American crow, chickadee, mourning dove, northern flicker, common grackle, coopers hawk, red tail hawk, Baltimore oriel, American robin, chipping sparrow, cedar waxwing, goldfinch, downy woodpecker, red-headed woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, phoebe, tufted titmouse and more.

We watch them year-around enjoying the mating, nesting and bringing their babies to the suet to eat and to our water station. This gives us great joy; in the watching and in the knowing we are helping the songbirds to thrive.

If You Would Like to Read More:

1) Birdscaping in the Midwest: A Guide to Gardening with Native plants to Attract Birds (my favorite book.) ISBN:978-0-299-29154-9.

2) Design Your Midwest Garden, Patricia Hill, ISBN: 978-1-931599-81-8 (my second favorite book.)

3) Go Native: Gardening with Native Plants and Wildflowers in the Lower Midwest, Carolyn Harstad, ISBN: 0-253-33561-2.

4) Gardening with Prairie Plants, Sally Wasowski, ISBN: 0-8166-3087-9

I hope I have inspired you!

Small House / Big Sky Donna

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