Mother Earth News Blogs >

Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Oberhasli the Swiss Alpine

Also known as the Oberhasli Brienzer, the Oberhasli is a dairy breed developed in Bern, Freiburg, Glarus, and Graubunden Switzerland.

Mabel and Izzy

Mabel and Izzabella munching in the pasture. 

Oberhasli goats were first imported to the United States in the early 1900s, though it was not until 1936 that purebred herds were established and maintained. The breed was initially named the Swiss Alpine, but in 1977, the breed name was changed to Oberhasli. They have a friendly, gentle, and sweet disposition.

Mature goats are considered medium in size. Bucks range in height from 30–34", and does 28–32", with weights of 100–150 pounds. The does are a dependable source of milk, known for their sweet light tasting milk, which has a wonderful amount of cream. The milk can be used for so many things including; baking, cooking, and simply drinking. Producing butter, ice-cream, yogurt, soaps, and even lotions are just a few other great options. Bucks and wethers are often used as pack animals, because of their strength and calm demeanor. They also make great 4-H projects!


Gizmo (4 yrs old) with daughter Izzabella (8 weeks old)

The breed’s color pattern is called chamoisee, a gorgeous brown almost red tinted coat. Black highlights are the standard, the black runs down their spines and part of their legs. Black stripping is also noted upon their face. A few white hairs are commonly found upon the top of their head, but watch out too many white hairs will disqualify them from the bred standard. Pure black colored Oberhasli are also found, although not considered optimal. The females can still be registered as an American Oberhasli, but the black bucks will only be experimental. A third color only known as chestnut has recently started popping up around the Oberhasli circle. They are absolutely gorgeous! All the same beautiful coloring as the original chamoisee, yet they are missing all the black highlighting. The ADGA does not recognize the chestnut coloring thus far, but hopefully that will change in the near future.


Izzabella playing amounts the stumps.  

There are two major distinguishing types amongst the Oberhasli breed, Pure and American. American simply means that the goat has met the criteria for the standards of breed. Pure means the goat has never been bred to an American Oberhasli, strictly to pure Swiss lines. It is more difficult to find purebreds as well as harder to find an unrelated pure male to breed them with. Yet, when you do, wow are they gorgeous!

J.J and Zoey

J.J (1 yr old doe) and her new friend Zoey (4 weeks old)

According to The Livestock Conservancy, the Oberhasli has come a long way. Once considered endangered they have moved all the way up to protected. The circle of Oberhasli breeders have worked very hard to publicize the breed, making them more known around the goat world. Many breeders have worked diligently at breeding only amazing top quality Obers. With that being said the breed also tends to come with a hefty price tag.

I believe some of the breeders have begun to lose a bit of focus. The focus should be breeding these gorgeous creatures to conserve the old Heritage breed. Not asking thousands of dollars per goat, it’s unrealistic for many. I do understand the show world is very different than the dairy industry. Yet, I have seen black male Obers that are unable to be registered in the Ober class going for $500-$1000! What? They can only be registered as experimental! So, you must wait like three or four generations for the offspring to even be considered for true registration. Then when these “breeders” don’t get the price they want out of them, they ship them off to the sale barn. It’s very sad. 


Mabel our 2 yr old First Freshener. 

The breed is an amazing dairy goat. I myself have six Obers, I love each and every one. I tend to buy the “imperfect does” from the show people who want them “perfect”. Ok so maybe the doe has a bit too much black coloring, our a teat which is not perfectly centered, or it has “improper” body structure; really? I often wonder if each of these breeders were judged as harshly on their imperfections, how they would feel. Are they blonde enough? Are they at their optimal weight by doctor’s standards? Are their teats of perfect shape and size? But it's ok the “imperfects” come stay here on our farm, where life is simple and easy. They munch and graze in the pasture or lay amongst the chickens in the barn. Once dusk falls they then are found curled up in their secure barn with all the top-quality hay they can eat. Obers are an amazing breed so look them up, research, and see if they fit your needs.

Ginger being sweet

Sweet Ginger (4 yrs old) chilling in the barn on a rainy day.

Follow Me


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Getting Started: How Many Hens Are Right for You


Elizabeth B. writes: I have always wanted backyard chickens after having a favorite hen as a child. How much space do you think I need minimum and what’s a good number to start with if I just want eggs and companionship? How can I be sure to get hens and where do you get them? Do you order them?

Great questions, Elizabeth! It’s great to hear of your interest in starting a backyard flock. I completely understand your attachment to your favorite hen. We feel the same way about our rooster, Big Papa. He’s four years old, and we hope he lives forever! I asked my daughter, Emery, how many she thought you should start out with, and her response was 50! Keep in mind, she’s six years old, and at the most, we had 250 layers for egg sales at farmers’ markets. So, 50 hens wouldn’t be that many for us.

Seriously, whenever someone asks me about getting started, I always recommend one hen per person in your family, or two per person if you want to buy heritage or fancy breeds that may not lay every day, or you want to share or sell a few dozens to friends, family, or neighbors. We are a family of four, and we currently have nine laying hens and a rooster. I have enough eggs for us to use (I bake a lot), and my friend Julie trades meat for our eggs. If you are single, I would still recommend a minimum of three hens for your starter flock because of their social nature and they like to roost at night in a group.

As for space, chickens really do not need a lot of space, nor do they need a fancy-pantsy coop. There are small garden sheds or large dog kennels that could be converted into a coop and would comfortably house a small flock. I’ve even seen wooden swingsets that crafty homesteaders have turned into chicken coops. A simple online search will help you determine what will work for you. All your layers will need is protection from predators and weather, a roosting bar, a few nesting boxes, and access to water and feed. Whether or not you allow them to free range is up to you. Honestly, it is not necessary to allow layers outside, and they will lay eggs while kept in their coops, but confinement is not ideal for small flocks.

And I purchase my chicks from a number of places, including: online hatcheries, local hatcheries, and farm-supply stores. I’m not that picky as to where I purchase my chicks. However, when I buy online, my hatchery of choice is not more than an hour away. This is important because of shipping time. I know that once my order is hatched,  I will need to pick up my chicks at the post office the next day. So, I don’t want to recommend an online hatchery for you, but instead, search for hatcheries close to where you live. Most likely, the hatchery will deliever to your local post office, so once you get a notification that your order is on its way, give them a holler to let them know. The guys in the mail room (especially Jeff) are always happy to give me a call when my peepers are there.

When you order your chicks online, there will be an option for male, female, or straight run. This is how you know your order will be all hens, and the hatchery will likely charge a little more per chick to sort them for you. Select female if you only want hens, or you can take your chances and select straight run. This means that the hatchery will not sex your chickens, and you’ll likely end up with males and females.

I will advise you to try an online hatchery if you are interested in a fancy or heritage breed. If you have never had chickens before, what you find at farm-supply store is a great introduction into poultry raising, and they are most likely females. But, with a few breeds, you can tell by the feather color if they are females. Golden Buff (also called Red Sex Link) chicks, for example, are yellow if they are female. Just keep in mind that the stores usually only carry live poultry in the spring and early summer, and hatcheries may take the coldest months off. You can find availability charts on the hatcheries’ Web sites. And, if you find a hatchery you like, check out its social media page. Many times, over-hatch sales are posted online, and you can get a sweet deal on chicks.

You can expect to spend $3 - $4 per chick for what I would call regular chickens (Buffs, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, etc), and $5 - $8 per chick for the fancy breeds, plus shipping. You can usually save money buy purchasing in bulk, but for a small homesteader, you’re not likely to need large quantities. But keep that in mind if you want to start raising broilers (meat chickens). You can raise enough broilers to feed your family in eight weeks, filling your freezer by the end of the summer. My rule is to raise one broiler for each week of the year, but I order 75 chicks to account for loss during production.

Keep in mind the other costs for starting a flock, such as waterers, feeders, chick starter feed, heat lamp/brooder, and a coop. Sometimes you can find used poultry supplies online, but be sure to thoroughly sanitized before use.

Elizabeth, I hope this helps you get your flock started. Would love to hear if you made the plunge to purchase chicks and see your set-up. If you, or any other readers, have more questions, leave a comment below.   

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


A Review of Duncraft's Best Hummingbird Feeder


In the United States, the migration of hummingbirds can begin as early as mid-July and last through September, with some hummingbirds wintering in lower Southern states if the cold is not too rough. During this migration period, the hummingbirds will need so much energy in their travels that they typically gain an extra  ¼ to almost ½  of their body weight. Having nectar sources available during their migration is very important, and many people chose to help provide food for them with a hummingbird feeder.

I recently had the opportunity to use and review the Duncraft 32 oz. Best-1 Hummingbird Feeder. It came to us swiftly by mail, and it was packaged securely in the box to make sure it would not be damaged. One of the first things I noticed upon removing it from the box was the clear and well-crafted glass bottle, which would later prove very helpful. This clearness of the feeder was great for ensuring the nectar did not grow cloudy, and also has marks for measurement on the side to view how much the hummingbirds are consuming daily.

Because I already had other feeders in place, it took some time for the hummingbirds that we have spending their Spring/Summer with us to adjust to a new one. I initially removed the old feeders, only to have the hummingbirds fly to where they were hung and zoom up and down in what appeared to be confusion. I eventually put the original feeder back in place, but left it empty, while the Best-1 feeder was halfway full. By doing this, the hummingbirds were adjusted to their new feeder within a few days. This feeder’s wide base seemed to provide a comfortable place for them to rest, as many times I observed them here perching instead of hovering.

I did not fill the feeder completely when it was first hung, as I knew there were not enough hummingbirds in my area yet to consume it all before it was time to wash it and change the nectar. As the temperature rose in the Summer, the feeder needed to be changed more frequently, and I did not wish to waste a batch of sugar water. I normally follow the universal 4:1 ratio in making my nectar (4 parts water to 1 part sugar, or, 1 cup of water to ¼ cup of sugar). However, I was pleased to see that Duncraft offers a wide variety of hummingbird nectar products on their website (both clear and naturally colored mixtures, as ordinary red dye can be harmful to a hummingbird).

hummingbird feeder cleaning 

The feeder can be easily disassembled for cleaning into just three parts- there are no tiny plastic flowers to remove and clean as with other feeders, which I found to be a great relief. Do not place the feeder into a dishwasher, and make sure to hand wash it instead. I recommend having a bottle brush on hand to use for this feeder, which will allow you to clean the inside of the glass bottle. It is recommended on the product’s outer box (and also a smaller card included) that you carefully hand-tighten the bottle back to the base, to ensure that too much force will not crack the neck of the feeder. 

In summary, I have been very impressed with the Duncraft Best-1 Hummingbird Feeder, and the all-around ease of use of the product. More importantly, the hummingbirds themselves have taken to, and enjoy using, this well-built feeder. I have also noticed a dramatic decrease in the problem I have normally had with ants and bees in feeders of the past. In my opinion, if you want a sturdy feeder that will last and provide you with hours of enjoyment observing hummingbirds, give the Best-1 a try.

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Read all of Fala's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Truth About Mini Pigs

Juliana Piglet

We raise pet Juliana Pigs on our farm, commonly referred to as ‘mini pigs’ or ‘tea cup pigs’. Juliana pigs are the smallest breed of pig, typically light gray in color with black spotting. It all started a little over a year ago when my husband surprised me with a baby boar for my birthday. It was instant love for this adorable boy.

Baby Boar

About six months later, we had the opportunity to adopt a female from a family whom she had gown too big for. The female came to us very overweight and in dire need of a hoof trim. But she had a great temperament and she was happy. Long story short, she was put on a strict diet, got her hooves trimmed up and lost a lot of weight. Once she was a much healthier pig many months later, we allowed our male and female to breed and had our very first litter born.

Newborn piglets

So while our Juliana’s may not meet the breed standard for size and height to be registered, they are purebred, they are amazing pets and we love them. So are you ready for the truth about mini pigs? Here’s what owning them entails and what to really expect when bringing home a pig to join your family.

All pigs begin life as tiny piglets, and yes they may fit into a teacup...for a day or two. Then they begin to nurse and eat solids and will quickly outgrow that ‘teacup pig’ size that you see displayed in calendars or cute pictures online. Most of their growth will happen within their first year of life, and will continue to grow until about three years of age. A realistic weight for a Juliana Pig is between 40-80 pounds, depending on their diet. Sadly, a full grown Juliana that is 15-20 pounds is likely being underfed. This is a common misconception that leads people to adopt, then when the pig grows larger than expected, they are discarded by their owner at a shelter. When adopting any animal, doing your research is incredibly important to make the best decision for yourself and the animal. A pigs lifespan can be 10-15 years, which means if a pig is the pet for you, you get 10-15 fun filled years with one of the smartest animals out there!

The Good

Pigs are very intelligent, some of the smartest animals in the world. They can be taught commands and can easily be litter trained. Many people compare them to dogs, only smarter.

Pigs are clean. Much cleaner than traditional pets such as cats or dogs. People misunderstand their zest for mud as dirty, but pigs don’t sweat and so mud or water is their way of cooling off on a hot day.

They are very easy to litter train if living inside. If they live outside, they will always pick the same far off corner to do their business, they will NEVER go to the bathroom in their bedding or near their food.

They are affectionate and love a good belly rub. They are friendly with other animals and very social.

They are inexpensive to keep. It costs approximately $10-20 a month to feed specialized mini pig feed.

Low maintenance. Hoof trimming as needed (1-2 times per year) and oral deworming twice per year.

The Bad

The can be hard to contain if your fences are not strong and they are bored. They are very curious animals and will go on a walkabout if allowed. All pigs respond very well to hot-wire or very secure fencing.

They will likely root up your yard. Pigs love to root to find roots, grass or to make a muddy wallow. If you don’t want them rooting up your award winning flowers or tomatoes, they do need a designated space for this natural behavior.

It is easy for them to become overweight. They are pigs after all! They are food motivated, they love almost any and all food. If raised with other animals, the other animal food should be kept out of reach of the pig. Pigs require 1-2% of their bodyweight in food daily, and it should be rationed to this amount to keep them from becoming obese.

Juliana Pigs

So the truth about mini pigs is that they make amazing pets! I adore our mini pigs, they are my favorite animals on our farm. They are affectionate, smart, clean, quiet, friendly and entertaining. I hate to see them adopted for the novelty of a ‘teacup pig’ as this is not reality, but I love to see them thrive in a loving, happy home. If a Juliana Pig is in your future, it will very likely be the best and weirdest dog you’ll ever love.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Backyard Birds: Poultry in the Veggie Patch?

Mendy Sellman's mobile broiler pens. 

Bigmac2342 writes: “I want to add chickens to my homestead. I have a garden with all the usual garden-type plants and vegetables, and I’m wondering if I should let my flock pasture in the garden for pest control and general foraging, or will they eat/destroy my plants?”

First of all, shout-out to Bigmac 2342, for commenting your concerns on my blog post. It’s much appreciated. I hope you get those chickens for your homestead ASAP. You won’t regret it.

Now, as to your question to allow them to forage in your vegetable garden, the short answer is no. I would not put any poultry in my vegetable garden, period. Now before anyone freaks out, I’m not saying not to allow your chickens to be outside, to forage for their own food, or to use them for pest control. On the contrary, chickens should be outside most of the time, doing all of the things mentioned in Bigmac’s question.

The issue is the location: the vegetable garden. While it may seem like an ideal spot for natural pest control, having chickens in an active, producing garden can post health concerns. Let’s remember that though chickens are green, mean, bug-eating machines, they’re also known for being huge poopsters, capable of spreading disease and fecal-based illnesses.

Not only should you be concerned with chicken poop in your vegetable garden, Bigmac is also thinking in the right direction, that chickens are notorious for destroying plants when they forage. Because they scratch with their sharp claws to expose bugs, worms, etc., chickens can (and will) uproot plants easily. They also eat most plant material, especially those garden goodies, like tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, and zucchini. I can tell you it’s frustrating to find a row of heirloom tomatoes, with bright, ripe fruit polka-dotted with peck marks in all of them (It’s somewhat soul-crushing!).

Another point here is that many of us who grow produce for farmers’ markets or on-farm sales can not sell produce that has been exposed to livestock feces. State health departments could shut you down as a potential health threat.

But don’t fear! There are ways in which you can incorporate poultry into your homestead while allowing them to forage for both plant and protein sources. I have seen many mobile pens used for both laying chickens and broilers. We used an open-bottom mobile pen for our broilers, and Matt made one large enough to accomodate batches of 150 birds at a time. And, because these pens are big, we’ve put turkeys, goats, and rabbits in them. Just fasten a couple cattle panels, 4x4’s, a little chicken wire, an entry door, and a tarp, and call it a day. These can easily incorporate nesting boxes and a roosting bar for layers, and the pens can be moved throughout your property.

Mobile Broiler Pens

I texted my homegirl, Mendy Sellman, of Rus-Men Farms Naturally Raised Meats, in Galion, to have her send me a picture of her mobile broiler pens. She used a PVC pipe and chicken wire plan she found online. She texted, “They are affordable to make, easy to assemble, easy for me to move by myself, and the chickens get plenty of air, but are also protected from the elements.”

The benefit to a mobile pen is twofold: pasture and safety. An open-bottom mobile pen allows your birds to forage for plant and protein sources, which is optimum for healthy, naturally raised poultry. The pens can be moved daily to keep your birds clean and give them opportunity to forage on fresh ground. And, we have found that our pen worked tremendously well for keeping predators out without having shut a coop door every night.  

The downside to this style of pen is that is isn’t really usuable in the winter. Ohio is known for it’s terrible weather, and poultry definitely need a winter coop in some sort of a building. This is why most small producers, like Mendy and myself, only raise broilers in the summer. Keeping layers throughout the year is much easier, and I plan to tackle that topic in another blog post.

Now, if building a mobile pen isn’t on your radar, and you like the idea of totally free-range poultry, then you can try to keep your chickens out of the garden. Bird netting is relatively inexpensive, and may help keep other unwanted animals out of your vegetables. Depending on the size of your garden, you can try making a perimeter of tomato stakes around the garden and draping the netting over the plants, securing the netting at the ground. Chickens are smarter than they’re given credit for, and will easily figure out how to get under the netting if it’s not secure. They may also try to peck vegetables through the netting.

What I will also add is that unleashing your poultry on a garden that is not in use, or is done producing for the year, can be a great way to naturally dispose of rotten, left-behind veggies or unwanted weeds. Chickens will clear a garden patch fairly quickly, while saving you time and effort at the end of the season. You can move a mobile pen overtop of a garden that needs clearing, and just let your girls do their thing!

Bigmac 2342, I hope this gives you a few ideas on how to maintain your flock and your garden. Each homestead is different, and you’ll figure out what works best for you and your flock. I will be answering another reader question in next week’s blog. If you have a question, please leave a comment below or message me on the Heritage Harvest Farm Facebook page.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Appreciating the Little Things

Finlee helping with chores

The long days of summer are here.  Incredibly blue skies, brilliant sun, the songs of birds busy catching breakfast for their little ones. Yes, it might be easy to complain that it’s been too wet or too dry or too hot or too cold or too buggy or too muggy… But, honestly, don’t let the internal complainer ruin the beauty in the day.  There are so many little things to be grateful for, all around us each day.  Pay attention to them, celebrate them.

In our last week’s Thursday afternoon creativity workshop (part of a series inspired by Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, so join us if you can from 3 to 6 pm), we explored the pervasiveness of scarcity mindset and how this creates a toxic misinterpretation of the creative process.  What is the antidote to scarcity mindset, to that gnawing feelings of not enough-ness?  Gratitude! 

As part of the workshop, we had a two-minute free-write on five topics pulled from the hat, each framed within the lens of gratitude. Here’s what I wrote that afternoon.


Insufferably hot day in the garden.  Gnats nipping at my face, smarting like their tiny bodies must be all teeth like a Parana. But then, Oh, the breeze, beloved breeze picks up, chasing them away. The breeze and the dragonflies are my best allies in the summer garden. They help me maintain my focus on the work at hand and not be completely driven out by the bugs.


Simple gift, a smile.  Takes fewer muscles than a frown, especially given how the act of smiling can serve to lighten the mood.  But how often the frown, the grimace, the look of pain. A genuine smile (like that given by your mother) is an oasis in the sea of suffering.  It’s like a gift, a bit of peace, when given truly.

Rose Petal

Gentle velvety cup, singing with your compatriots on a yellow puff of joy—a single rose, the Tudor rose. What joy to find you along the roadside, blooming in a sudden burst, unexpected. Wild rose. How long had you been growing there and I had not noticed?  Had you waited long for me to delight in your bloom?  I’ll not pick you but let you grow.


So nice when you have them—what a kerfuffle when you don’t!  They jingle in the bottom of my bag as I fumble about, talking to themselves. The first key I ever got was the one to my own studio door, in 2007. Now I have a collection—house, café, shed, gate…  Funny, though, that first key is still the most special to me.


Sometimes I resent the morning chores—sometimes big time—but really I’m also grateful for them.  hey get me going in the morning, even when I would much rather hole up and feel sorry for myself. They get me outside, no matter the weather.  They keep me connected with nature, noticing the little things, aware. The duty of chores grounds me in tending, in caring.  Animal lives depend on me to show up again and again and again. The duty of chores teaches me to be dependable, level-headed, big-picture and detail focused—honed skills I can always apply to my creative life. The duty of chores is the discipline of showing up, despite all manner of internal and external resistance.

Here’s another bit of writing from my morning journal pages, sharing a bit of gratitude for toads.

Saw another toad today.  They’re my favorite garden helpers. Whenever I find myself stepping towards a creative or healing endeavor, that evening will appear a toad during chores. I take it as an omen of universal goodwill towards my goal. Toads always make me smile, even if they’ve just made me jump while weeding, mistaking them for a clod of soil.  Toads have an earthy sort of charm—unassuming, going about their work. 

This one was sitting right in the middle of the lane, all fat and sassy.  Not wanting to leave the little fellow (or lady?) to get squished under a tire, I picked it up and carried it along with me for a while, depositing it safely in the grass. The toad squirmed in my hands, probably certain I was going to eat it, when I was only borrowing its time and thinking of its safety. 

Creativity does that too—sees us ready, picks us up. Our first reaction may be fear, until we realize no harm is intended—then we go along for the lift before being set back down. But in order to get the lift, the toad had to be out in the open where I could see it.  The cautious toads that stayed in the grass, they never had the chance for a ride.  Think of the stories my toad could tell them now!  Would the others believe him. Maybe, maybe not, but either way the toad had the adventure, and I had a good toad smile at the end of the long day.

What small or even simple things do you have to be grateful for this week? Count them, share them, take a moment to write about them. Keep appreciating the little things, and we’ll see you down on the farm sometime.

Beautiful summer morning doing chores with Finlee.  Photo by Kara Berlage

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

A Special Place: Homestead Nature Memories Growing Up

sprawling maple brances

Looking upwards into the farm’s ancient maple trees.  Photo by Laura Berlage

There was this special little place, when I was growing up.  I never showed it to anyone—not intentionally anyway.  Oh, they could have found it easily enough by themselves, but when you’re a kid you love the idea of having a place all to yourself, especially when you’re always asked to share things with your little sister.

It was blackberry season, which was my favorite time of year, right around my birthday.  The canes were huge—bigger than me—tucked in between the red pines Mom helped Grandma and Grandpa plant back when they first bought the farm, back when Mom was 12 years old.

And there, just off the corner of the trails, was my little special place.  There was only one way in, between a honeysuckle thicket and the rough trunk of a big pine tree, into a natural bowl in the earth where a few wild blueberries grew among the moss and princess pines.  The blackberry canes were all around, higher than my head, arching over the bowl like a canopy, and I could sit there and pick and eat and no one would bother me—until the rest of the family started to wonder where I was.

It was cooler in that little spot and always damp enough that I’d squat rather than sit.  I’d look up through the canes and the pine branches above, swaying in the early autumn breeze.  It seemed so safe and magical there—a place where you might meet a fairy or a gnome.  I didn’t actually get to meet one, but I kept hoping I would.

But blackberry patches have a habit of moving around after a while, and the red pines got thinned out a few years ago.  I’ve been back to that spot, but it’s not the same anymore—a lesson in impermanence.  And yet, that’s ok.  It can stay as the magical childhood place, with the pricker scuffs on my arms and hands, the dark purple stains on fingers and mouth. 

Do you remember your own special little spot, in the garden, in the woods, in the park, where you would go as a child?  Catch frogs or imagine fairies on the toadstools or watch the ducks frolic in the pond?  A place to daydream and laugh and run free or curl up with a favorite book by the old swing tree and playhouse? 

Tree Friends

The maples in the farmyard were another magical place to grow up.  The shade offered treasured respite in the heat of summertime, a good place for a lemonade after hours toiling in the garden under the sun.  And big old trees like these are beautiful reminders of the strength of growing slow and building strong foundations.

Typically, when we think about trees, we think of the graceful and sturdy trunk, the sprawling branches, the quivering leaves that become so exquisitely beautiful in autumn.  But what we might forget is that there is an equal amount of growth below the ground, supporting that tree.  Yes, the roots!  The roots spread wide, as wide as the canopy above, searching for water and nutrients and a good purchase.  And the roots dive deep—sometimes to incredible depths with a tap root to reach continuous water.  Roots are essential—without them the tree would perish.

But this is only looking at the value of roots in the outward or production-facing aspect of this integral part of the tree as a living organism.  In wintertime, for deciduous trees, the roots are the only living, active part.  The purpose of having leaves on the tree in summertime is for photosynthesis, which takes the energy of the sun and converts it into sugars.  These sugars are sent back through the twigs and branches and limbs and trunk all the way down to those roots, to store away and strengthen the health of the tree.  In late autumn, the leaves are shed, the sap retreats to the roots, and all goes completely dormant above ground.  Then, in springtime, up comes that great reservoir of sugary sap, up through the trunk and the limbs and the branches and the twigs, all the way out to the waiting buds that they might swell and open as new leaves for another season.

Summertime is here, and with all the rain the leaves are dense and green upon the trees, taking full advantage of any sunshine.  While we have lost a few of those ancient maples in the farmyard over the years, several still remain, keeping watch of the century farm.

What are some of your favorite summer nature memories?  Take time to enjoy a special place outside this week.  I’ll be enjoying the butterfly garden by Farmstead Creamery!  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.