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Savanna Restoration Series: Part 4

Lori Havens

(Read Savanna Restoration: Part 1 HERE)

(Read Savanna Restoration: Part 2 HERE)

(Read Savanna Restoration Part 3 HERE)

After the 500 saplings had been planted, by hand, one sapling at a time, it was time for some tubing!

tubing on the river

Well, yes, that kind of tubing first … but then it was time for some savanna style tubing!

Bryan and tube

The lovely, delicate, tender, sweet saplings look like leafy twigs to us, but to deer, rabbits and other critters, they look like the finest European chocolate, so it’s important to protect them! Farmer Bryan ordered hundreds of plastic tree tubes. We loaded the boxes into the mule and headed out to the pasture.

boxes in the mule

We have a game for you to play now … it’s called, “Where’s the Sapling?”

finding the hidden saplings

Out here amidst the mature pasture grasses, locating the little saplings is like the ultimate game of “Where’s Waldo.” At first, it took us quite a while to spot them! After we’d found the first dozen or so, we were quite good at it!

clear sapling

hidden sapling

Planting these saplings was slow, hot, sweaty work. Tubing them was no work at all … just a wee bit of time to complete the steps:

STEP 1: Grab a pack of tubes and stakes. Each pack has five tubes ranging from wide to narrow width … pull them apart. Save yourself some steps and grab a few more packs so you don’t have to keep walking back and forth!

unloading tubes

STEP 2: Play “Where’s the Sapling?” and drop one tube and one stake right next to the sapling the second you spot it … if you look away, you’ll lose it!

drop tube next to sapling

STEP 3: Push as much pasture grass away from the sapling as you can and gently place a tube around the sapling. Thread the plastic stake through the zip ties, then hammer the stake into the ground. If it bounces back up each time you hit it, you’re on a rock. Shift it and repeat until it goes down into the ground. Once it’s in and the tube is stable, tighten the zip ties.

pounding in a tube

tube in the ground

pull zip ties  pull zip ties

STEP 4: It is important to label the tube with the type of tree that is inside of it. Bryan labels them “CN” for Chestnut, “CB” for Cherry Bush (as opposed to a cherry tree), “O” for Oak, “H” for Hazelnut, “BL” for Black Locust.

Bryan's tree code  Bryan's tree code

It’s gratifying when you look down the pasture and see that finished row of tree tubes! We were really, really, really happy when the last tube was placed!

a tubed row

Next spring, we will go up on the ridgetop and have a peek inside each tube, to check for “signs of life.”

inside the tube

Any saplings that have not survived will be replaced, finances permitting. Our supplier was not able to ship the apple tree saplings this year for some reason, so Farmer Bryan left spaces in each row where he had an apple tree planned. These trees will have to be planted and tubed next spring.

There! You’ve come alongside us and planted a savanna! Pat yourself on the back … it was a lot of work, and you’re finally done … until next spring, anyway!


Savanna Restoration Series: Part 3

Bryan and Zoe

Lori HavensPicture this: You are the 23-year-old owner of 40 acres of chemical-free, stunningly beautiful though-somewhat neglected land. You decide to restore your land to its historic roots as a Midwest Savanna.

In late summer, you get together with another young farmer who knows how to do these things, and spend lots of time walking through your land, identifying your marvelous variety of healthy pasture grasses and existing trees, and studying contour maps while guzzling plenty of ice water and munching on non-GMO popcorn.

walking the pasture

pasture bouquet

tree and nuts

farmers at the computer

You study your land carefully whenever it rains, so you know where water is naturally running off, and forming gullies down the hill and into the woods. You spot places where you could dig a trough called a “swale” to divert some of that water to other places (like your future savanna), effectively channeling water distribution up to the dry ridgetop.

Throughout the winter, you dream about your savanna. In early spring, you order trees … lots and lots of trees. It is so much fun! Your swale-digging farmer friend shows up with his swale-digging tractor attachment, and the swales are dug.


see the swale?

Soon, the wait is over … boxes and boxes of tree saplings arrive! Trees … trees … trees … LOTS and LOTS of trees! How many trees? Don’t you remember? You ordered 500 trees. 500 trees. 500 TREES. Good grief, what were you thinking? You’re up here on this farm by yourself, and you have 500 trees to plant!  

You drop hints to the few people you know up there in your new Wisconsin homeland. Help! Your mom drops hints to the few people she knows up there. Help! Neither of you gets any response. Oh well. Suck it up, grab a tamping rod, a shovel, a pair of leather gloves, don your muck boots, and head up the ridge top with your boxes.

saplings in boxes

saplings in boxes

Double-check your planting plan … make sure you know exactly where you need to put which tree … there are six different kinds of trees and shrubs to keep straight.

the planting plan

Shade tree rows have eight trees, planted fairly far apart. Intensive rows have understory shrubs every 4 feet or so, interspersed amongst the shade trees. So you identify the correct saplings, grab eight or 16 of them, then start walking the row and dropping the saplings where you want to plant them.

planting trees

planting trees

planting trees

planting trees

planting trees

Once they’re all dropped, grab your shovel and your tamping rod, and head to the beginning of the row. Use the heavy tamping rod to slice into the earth, and push the dirt to the side. You are making a slit just wide enough to accommodate the roots of the sapling. If the roots are bent (they often are), cut the slit to accommodate this, too. Carefully guide the roots into the opening … take care to prevent them from twisting. Now take the tamping rod, slice into the earth alongside the roots without cutting them, and pull the handle toward the roots to squeeze the dirt back around them, pressing out air and closing the space.

planting trees

planting trees

Next, grab your shovel. All along the swales that were dug lies the dirt and grass that was uprooted in the process. Slice into it and make yourself two 6-inch clods, grass attached. Watch what you’re cutting, lest you harm a toad!

planting trees


Place the two dirt clods, grass side down, around the sapling. Stomp them down firmly into the ground. This provides a structural support for the newly planted tree. As the “buried” grass breaks down, it will feed the little tree.

planting trees

planting trees

planting trees

planting trees

Congratulations! You’ve planted your first tree! Now that you know what to do, the rest is easy – just do it again … and again … and again … 500 times. Soon you’ll have planted your very own savanna!

all done

We’ll let you take a little break so you can feel good about the incredible work you’ve accomplished. But only a little one … there are creatures out there who look at your newly planted saplings the way you look at fine chocolate. You need to protect your sweet, green treats … stay tuned for our next installment!

Read Savanna Restoration: Part 1 HERE.

Read Savanna Restoration: Part 2 HERE.

Read Savanna Restoration: Part 4 HERE.

Savanna Restoration Series: Part 2

Lori Havens(Read Part 1 of my Savanna Restoration Series HERE.)

(Read Savanna Restoration: Part 3 HERE)

(Read Savanna Restoration: Part 4 HERE)

Here at Farm on the Hill, we are faced with the problem of a lush but tired hayfield in great need of food: the natural fertilizer that grazing ruminant animals can provide.


Our long-term plan to solve this problem has been to build up our farm for management intensive, rotational grazing: free-ranging ruminants “cut” and “fertilize” the grass; free-ranging poultry follow several days behind (to allow for the length of the fly cycle), scratching through the droppings, gobbling up larvae, insects, and worms, thus sanitizing the pasture and providing the natural protein poultry need and crave as they add their own nutritious fertilizer to the pasture.

hens on pasture

To this end, our first order of business during our first two seasons as the owners of this land has been building infrastructure to support future livestock. After an accurate survey of the property was completed and boundaries clearly marked, electrified, permanent perimeter fencing was professionally installed over a two-year period. Next to the farm purchase itself, this fencing was the single largest investment we made.






Bryan built a Joel Salatin-inspired mobile chicken coop called the Eggmobile to house our laying hens. Eggmobile and occupants went out onto the front end of the ridge top hayfield, enjoying its grass and bugs, and leaving nourishing fertilizer behind.  


We invested in major repairs to the barn’s old foundation …

barn restoration

barn restoration

barn restoration

barn restoration

barn restoration

… and cleared out old crumbling silos and other junk that was in the barnyard.

barnyard clearing

barnyard clearing

barnyard clearing

barnyard clearing

barnyard clearing

barnyard clearing

barnyard clearing

Finally, last fall, we brought in the four ewe lambs that will be the builders of our flock, plus a guard llama whom we named “Kuzco.” These five have been providing needed fertilizer and grazing to the previously weed-filled barnyard.

Kuzco and ewes

Ultimately, the ruminants need to head up and out into the old hayfield to graze and fertilize it. But there’s a small problem: Hayfields like to be in full sun, all day long. Animals do not. Modern farm machinery used for haying doesn’t take well to trees … thus, there aren’t any up on our ridge top acreage.

Last week’s post mentioned the past and present of our land. We’ve decided to take our farm back in time … back to its origins as a Midwest Oak Savanna!

savanna map

A savanna is, simply stated, grassland with trees and shrubs scattered through it. It provides perfect support in nature for herds of grazing animals. With their input (healthy “pruning” plus fertilizer to continuously rejuvenate the grasses), the savanna is one of planet’s most diverse and productive ecosystems.  

mature savanna

The Bible says that God created by simply speaking things into being. The theory of evolution claims they “evolved” over millions of years. We have no such power, nor so much time! Just a shovel, a tamping rod, the sweat of our brows, and boxes and boxes containing … get ready … 500 tree and shrub saplings. YES … FIVE HUNDRED. Let me tell you … how we wish we could have handed this job to God to simply speak it into being! But He seemed to indicate this was something we had to go through.

muddy boots

Join me next week for our continued journey into the past … as we plant ourselves an old-fashioned Midwest Oak Savanna!

Savanna Restoration Series: Part 1

summer breeze

Lori HavensIt’s been a busy summer up here in beautiful Wisconsin! The work has been overwhelming, exhausting, sweaty and dirty, but we think it’ll all be worth it. So what is it that we’re doing here at Farm on the Hill? Welcome to Part 1 of my Savanna Restoration Series!

mapFarm on the Hill is comprised of 40 acres of mixed woods (5 acres) and pasture land. We are located in Richland Center, in the southwest quadrant of Wisconsin. Our area is part of Wisconsin’s “Driftless Region,” an area that was left untouched by the glaciers that scoured (and flattened) much of the Midwest. As a result, the Driftless Region is characterized by beautiful high hills and deep valleys, with rivers meandering through and around.

A sign with history of the Kickapoo River Valley

Farmer Bryan Havens

Driftless roadway

Our farm sits at the very top of one of the beautiful ridges … thus our name, Farm on the Hill. In the hot summer, we appreciate the breezes that often blow here on the ridge top. In the winter, we’ve learned to live with the blowing snow and icy blasts.


farm during the winter

A look out our kitchen window gives a glimpse at this land’s past and present. Our woods are a mix of native hardwoods (like oak and walnut), fruit trees (apples), and brambles (wild blackberry). These five acres represent the past.




The remaining 30 acres were cleared long ago for pasturing dairy cows … decades ago this farm was a dairy farm! (Remember our barn renovation, posted last year here at Capper's Farmer?)Though the previous owner of our farm didn’t use it as a dairy operation, he did continue to grow mixed grass hay … completely free of chemicals … which he cut and baled year after year. In nature, animals grazing on the grasses would have accomplished the cutting function. They also would have added critically important fertilizer to the land, replacing nutrients taken by the grasses. In our situation, a hayfield without chemical inputs (for which we are grateful) and without grazing animals to fertilize it made for some tired-out land … you cannot just take and take and take from the land (harvesting hay) without giving back.



The fix? It’s really quite simple … put some animals out there and let them do what they love to do!

The reality of making it happen? Not so simple.

(Read Savanna Restoration: Part 2 HERE)

(Read Savanna Restoration: Part 3 HERE)

(Read Savanna Restoration: Part 4 HERE)

Hiatus is Over and the Farm is Waking Up for Scrambled Eggs

Lori HavensAfter taking a month-long hiatus from the farm in order to see to my parents' move to an assisted living apartment, my husband and I finally returned to celebrate Easter with our son, Farmer Bryan, at the beautiful farm in Wisconsin! One of my favorite moments was when I walked into the barn, greeted Kuzco (our llama) and the four ewes, who are no longer so skittish and afraid of my presence ... and then opened the door to the brooder where the young layer chicks have been since their arrival last December at the age of two days.


When I left to help my parents, this is what they looked like ... juveniles, pretty much allover white in color:

White hen

Oh, the chicken loveliness that greeted me today! Beautiful, grown-up laying hens of the most soothing cream color, many showing brown flecking at their necks and wing tips ...

Grown Up

Lovely Bird

We are looking for their first eggs toward the end of this month or early May. It has about killed me to have to buy eggs at a store this winter since our last batch of layers finished their careers at our farm ... can't wait to have our own fabulous, fresh, orange-yolked pastured eggs again! If you've never had a farm-fresh egg from hens who live a free-to-roam life on a chemical-free pasture, you've missed an incredible experience! I can't encourage you enough to find a local farmer from whom you can buy a couple dozen of these amazing little orbs! If you find yourself in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin, our "girls" will be out on the pasture and we'll be sure you get to try a REAL egg! 


To celebrate the soon-to-arrive eggs, I'll share my favorite method for preparing delicious scrambled eggs ... this scrumptious recipe was taught to me by my mom, and turned my husband, who never liked eggs, into a total fan! 

Scrambled Eggs For Two

4 strips bacon
6 farm fresh eggs
Small splash (about 2 tablespoons) milk (I like 2%)
3 or 4 drops Tabasco sauce
6 drops Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon butter

Cook the bacon crisp in frying pan; remove to paper towels to soak up grease and let cool. Crumble into a small bowl and set aside. Pour off excess grease from pan, leaving just a coating behind. Set pan aside. 

Break eggs into a medium bowl. Add the remaining ingredients:

  • milk 
  • Tabasco sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • seasoned salt
  • pepper

Whisk thoroughly until combined.

Melt butter in the frying pan (with the bacon grease coating) over low to medium-low heat. Swirl pan to coat entire bottom surface with melted butter. Add eggs. Cook S-L-O-W-L-Y, stirring, until eggs are almost solidified but not completely. Add bacon crumbles and stir into eggs.  Watch them carefully ... they are done when they are no longer liquidy/runny, but not completely dry ... they should have a lovely, creamy texture. Enjoy!

FIRST NOTE: If eggs are cooking too quickly (causes dryness and toughness), remove the pan from the heat for a little while to slow them down.  

SECOND NOTE: If I'm out of Worcestershire sauce, I will use a light shake of garlic salt for flavoring. Be sure to omit the seasoned salt if you do this!  

FINAL NOTE: Of course, you can increase this recipe to feed as many folks as you need to ... I go with 1 drop Worcestershire sauce per egg, for as many eggs as you use. Easy on the Tabasco sauce as you increase the eggs! Also, when doubling any recipe, use only half as much salt, or even less, as you make the increases. You can always add extra salt at the table!

Winter Arrival Delays Turkey Processing and Brings Challenges

Oh what a difference a day makes…





Lori HavensHere in the beautiful Driftless Region of southwestern Wisconsin, particularly in our city, Richland Center, there is just a dusting of snow. But three hours to our north and west, a nasty 5 to 8 inches of heavy snow and ice took direct aim at our poultry processor, and hit just a few hours before we were to take off with a trailer-load of future Thanksgiving "Centers of Attraction."

We’d been watching the weather forecasts all day on Sunday the 9th, our departure scheduled for Monday the 10th, and the turkeys’ demise scheduled for early Tuesday morning, the 11th, when the state inspector would be on site. It is a little over three hours’ drive for us on a good day … but with the snow starting to fall overnight between Sunday and Monday, and continuing all day Monday and Tuesday, we decided to stay put here in “The South” and reschedule for the following week. We are glad we did, as the news reported an accident in Minnesota, where the storm was coming from: A semi traveling on I-94 with a load of live turkeys had skidded off the highway and overturned down the embankment. On the map below, our farm is at point "A" and our processors are at point "B."


So, our turkeys received a temporary reprieve … and we’ve received a bucketful of challenges! Fortunately, we still had plenty of feed left for them, and there’s lots of grass. The temperatures have plummeted below freezing, and look to stay that way throughout the entire week, so I think their much loved bug population is gone.

Last August, Farmer Bryan ran about 300 feet of hose from the well pump at the barn out to the Turkey Pasture. The hose is connected to an automatic waterer, which senses the water level in the basin and allows water to flow in when it starts getting low.  Needless to say, the hoses are frozen, and the water in the little red plastic basin froze, too.


So, every three hours, we filled a bucket with hot water from the farmhouse sink, and carried it out to the Turkey Pasture. The turkeys love the warm treat, and drink it up fast … necessitating another trip up and down the hill from house to pasture. That little watering basin is perfectly adequate when it constantly refills itself ... but when it's hand-filled, the little bit of water that it holds doesn't last long with 20 thirsty turkeys.


This routine got very old, very quickly, so Farmer Bryan made a trip to the hardware store (our rural hardware stores carry farm supplies, too) for a thick-walled rubber water basin, and then to another store for a package of ping pong balls. Rubber is a far better insulator than plastic, and the three ping pong balls we float in the water move with the slightest breeze, so they help to keep the surface water from skimming over with ice. It seems to be working well, and wasn’t too horribly expensive a fix.


The tarps we had applied to the northwest corners of the mobile Turkey Huts this past October when a cold, wind-driven rain was forecast seem to be holding up well, and provide a wind-break for the birds at night and anytime during the day that they desire to find shelter from Old Man Winter who has come to call far earlier than he is supposed to.


So, we felt like we had our bases covered … until I spotted a wintertime resident who also decided to call earlier than we had expected.


This bald eagle, who typically hung out at our next door neighbor’s place last year, decided that the tree between our barnyard and the Turkey Pasture was the place he wanted to be.


He kept a watchful eye on those turkeys, and it had me worried. I’m betting that the turkeys are too big for him, but I’m not an eagle-turkey expert, so I just watched him as he watched them. Finally, after about 20 minutes of mutual watching, he took off and went to the neighbor’s trees. I’m hoping he finds plenty of corn to glean and rabbits to eat, and forgets about our turkeys.

What a difference a day makes … we should have had 20 turkeys, nicely shrink-wrapped, safe and sound in the big freezers downstairs. Who knew that a typhoon from Hawaii would scoot up to Alaska and then turn east with its low pressure and moisture to derail our oh-so-carefully-laid plans? Such is life on the farm. We yield to the pressure, wherever it is from, and do our best to roll with it. Praying we can keep these Thanksgiving turkeys healthy and alive through these next five frozen days, and then have safe passage to the processors up north. I’ll breathe a sigh of relief when everyone is safely back home at the farm!


Autumn Table Decor for Holidays and Everyday

Lori HavensHappy November to the Capper's Farmer family! For most of us, the harvest has been gathered in, and we are completing preparations for the winter that will, no doubt, be upon us before we can blink twice. Hearth and home are true focal points at this time of year as we bring the colors of fall into our homes.



Here at Farm on the Hill in southwest Wisconsin's gorgeous Driftless Region, the riot of fall color we thoroughly enjoyed is but a memory ... grays and browns are taking over, and the smell of wood smoke spices the air as we fire up the wood-burning furnace. 


This is the time of year when I begin to think warm and cozy as I walk around the farmhouse, placing extra throw blankets on the couch and easy chairs, and pulling out candles with the warm scents of cinnamon and vanilla.

I love to have my kitchen and dining room tables wear a simple decoration throughout the fall, and then get dressed up for Thanksgiving. And my favorite table decorations come from and reflect the bounty of the fall harvest.

My everyday table is accented with the natural beauty of tri-color popcorn, a canning jar, and a tealight.



As the harvest season progresses, I love to decorate my table with winter squashes. These little decorative ones were super inexpensive at my grocer, but acorn and butternut squashes work just as well, and can be eaten as they ripen beyond their "decorative life." The larger the squash you use, the larger the canning jar should be. 


My dining room table gets dressed up for Thanksgiving in much the same way, but with extra candles and the addition of nuts in the shell. While nuts in the jar are expensive, nuts in the shell are purchased in the bulk section of your grocery store, and can be stored in the freezer after they've finished their time on your table, thus being useful for many years. (You'll know when it's time to replace them by their smell ... but mine really do last many years!) I love walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds ... but if you are blessed with an oak tree in your yard, acorns can be gathered at no cost other than a little exercise!




Apples and pears can be easily added to this table decor on the celebration day for an extra pop of color and fun. Small, fallen branches with still-pretty leaves clinging to them or clipped stems of shrubs from your yard can be added. Simply walk around your property ... what looks pretty and won't be a wet or sticky mess on the table do you see? Bring the outdoors in.

Once Thanksgiving is over, place the popcorn into zipper-lock baggies and store in a dry location. (I put it into the drawer where I store my candlesticks and placemats); cook and eat the squashes; and enjoy the fruit if you used it!


Nuts in the shell also go into a zipper-lock freezer baggie (I actually double-bag these to prevent absorption of freezer odor over the years of storage) and then into the freezer. Label the baggie as "Decorative Use Only ... Do NOT Eat!" if you plan to store them for more than six months. Make them easy to find in the freezer ... you can use them again for Christmas, and I'll be sharing more inexpensive holiday table decor inspired by nature come December, so stay tuned!

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