I was feeling really overwhelmed the other day… there’s a lot to get done around here! The fire change a lot and yet not much. Either way, it added more ‘to-do’ to an already full schedule. The fire felt like such a kick in the pants because here we were, finally starting to do more than just tread water. We were actually beginning to make really noticeable forward progress on things! The fire caused us to stop in our tracks and reassess. Are our plans good? Were we moving in the right direction? What, if anything did the fire change for us moving on from this? And the feelings of overwhelm got me to pause and assess: How is our progress on our 2018 homestead plans coming? After the fire, do our plans need to change?
This pause for reflection was good, and the answers were uplifting for sure. Our plans are good! We are definitely moving in the right direction, and our plans for the future actually end up working fairly well in conjunction with the fire. It’s still a bit of a setback, and it’s still heartbreaking to think of all of the chicks that we lost, and the big hole in my view out the living room window brings a twinge of sadness with it. The fire did change things for us. It opened up possibilities that we hadn’t seen before, and it also pushes us to move forward with some of our plans sooner than anticipated. As far as our progress on our 2018 homesteading plans, we’re actually doing really, really well. We are on track, if not ahead of what we had set as attainable goals for the year. Again, the fire did change things for us. It adds two new tasks to our plans that we hadn’t been expecting. 1) Build a greenhouse/chicken coop THIS year. 2) Clean up the mess from the fire.
First, I would like to break down our 2018 homestead plans and say where we are at with everything, and then I’d like to break down where we see things going for the remainder of the year, the new goals that have been added. (I’m going to run through my list as it was written in the original post.)
Maple Syrup and Honey
I am pleased as punch with how our maple season went this year. We decided to harvest both maple and box elder sap this year and boil them down together. We had sampled a batch from a neighbor that was a mix of the two, and really liked it. In total, we ended up making over 3.5 gallons of syrup this year, over double what we made last year! Not sure we’d be able to make much more than that next year without tapping trees on other people’s property, but that’s a lot of syrup for certain!
As for the bees, our hives last year died for reasons unknown. We can speculate on several reasons, but the truth is just that we don’t really know. Our bees came at the end of April, and Scott is feeling much more comfortable with beekeeping this year. He still knows there is a lot to learn, but he’s feeling a little more confident in which steps to take and when, and in knowing what different things look like, such as drone comb vs. worker comb, and the different phases of the whole process. Tiffany is keeping her bees at their house this year, now that they have their own home out in the country and space to keep them! She too, is feeling much better about her efforts this year.
Chickens and Garden Expansion
Our first big goal for the year with the chickens was to get the chickshaw built, which we were able to do in March. They’ve been doing a fantastic job in helping us prepare our main garden this year. We’re just letting them finish up the last stretch of the garden as I finish weeding what remains to be done in the other side and I am planting seeds and transplants as I go so that they get a head start against any new weeds. Then I’m tackling the weeds with a hoe this year in between rows and plants.
Poppy was a portion of our chicken protection plan, but she was still living in the house in February. We were able to start transitioning her to being an outside dog back in March, but fully moved her outside after the snow melted after the April snowstorm. She much prefers to be an outdoor dog, and she’s already proven to be a good lookout. Unfortunately, she’s noticed people walking by our property and driving past on bicycles… scared a few people for sure. We’re working on that, but oh boy! There’s a plan to manage that going forward though, so if she chased you, I am SOOOO sorry! She thinks it’s a game right now. As I said, we’re working on it. At the very least, she’s looking out for our family and our chickens. She’s learned not to enter the garden, so that’s good too, and she seems to be a bit bored of the chickens now, which is good, because she no longer feels like chasing them. Now she just grazes the grass outside of the fence where they are eating because she wants to hang out with them. Prior to moving Poppy outside, we still had some predator issues and lost what we had left of a flock, so we invested in the electric poultry netting, and that stopped any problems we were having.
We haven’t quite gotten our second garden quadrant prepared, but we’re getting there. The tarps have been down for some time now, and during the fire, they moved the tarps away so that they could work on the fire without damaging our tarps. That revealed that my plans were working. Eventually, I was able to get the tarps laid back down, and they will stay there until I am ready to move the chickens out of the main garden quadrant, which I am hoping will be by the end of the month. We still don’t have that area fenced, but we’ll have to wait on that until we clean up more of the mess from the fire.
Our plans for more chickens were interrupted when we lost all of our baby chicks in the fire, but we’ve ordered more, due to come June 13th. It won’t be as many chicks this time, but still enough for what we need. The reason that we had purchased so many chicks was that we were planning on selling a lot of eggs and also having the chickens do a lot of ground prep for us as we expand our growing efforts and move forward on our plans. We’ll have a much smaller team of birds doing that this year, but there’ll be enough, and there’s always next year!
Seed Starting Area and Garden Plans
The seed starting area has been working really well for me this year. I was finally able to successfully start tomato plants, and I just finished transplanting them into the garden yesterday. I was surprised by how big my plants got, but in a great way! Hoping for a great harvest this year!!! In fact, I think just about everything I started down there has grown. I’ve transplanted onions already as well, and I’m in the process of hardening off a few other plants. I’m planning to start all of my squash and melon plants down there later today.
As for garden plans, I know I shared a bit about how I was coming up with all of my numbers and dates. It’s all thanks to Common Sense Home and Melissa K. Norris. Because of them, I was able to come up with a better guess as to the number of plants we’ll need to get us through most of the year and figure out when to start things indoors and when to transplant them, when to start them outdoors, and how to intensively plant. I’m feeling so much better about our garden efforts this year already, and it’s still early. I think this year will be a really good index for us as to what we need to aim for in the coming years. I never drew up a planting plan. I already have a decent idea of which foods cannot be planted next to each other, and I’m just planting as I go. I’m keeping track of it all, and when I’m done, I’ll draw up a map of how we planted so that I can track what worked and what didn’t, and next year we’ll have on paper where we planted what. I did that last year, too, and for the most part, I can remember where it was all planted, but I’m sure that as I plant more and more gardens here in the years to come it will become harder to keep track of that all.
Beginnings of a New Building
This one is still just as questionable as it was back in February, but we’re thinking a lot more seriously about it right now. We need to come up with an actual design and start making phone calls for price quotes so that we know what we’ll be able to do and what we won’t. At the very least, I think we’ve confirmed where we want to put the new building, and made the beginnings of a real plan for it.
This one feels more like a setback than the others, but still, we’re doing okay here. Again, we lost all of the chicks in the fire, about 70 of which were the cornish cross. They were getting so big, too. At not quite three weeks, they were already about double the size of the other chicks that we had. Of the 110 chickens that we ordered, I think that about 30 of them will be the cornish cross. We’ll be butchering a few of the dual purpose birds as well this year, definitely later than the meat birds since they’ll need to get large enough. We’ll be butchering most of the roosters that we get, possibly keeping a few so that we can hatch our own chicks next year.
Lavender Hedge and Pie Field
The lavender that I started back in February is growing nicely. I kept the seeds in damp paper towel for two weeks to aid in germination, then planted the seeds. It took at least two weeks for my seeds to actually start sprouting after the soaking, possibly because we didn’t really add any artificial heat into the basement, just using the lights to help with growing. They grew little by little, and eventually I transplanted them into larger pots. I put three in each pot because I didn’t have any smaller pots, and it took them a bit to really take off, but they are just starting to. I am pretty sure that the heat these last two weeks has really helped them to take off. We just mowed the section of tall grass where we want to put the lavender, and soon I’ll head over there with the broadfork to till it up and add gravel into the soil. I’m excited, but nervous!
Speaking of cutting the grass, we just added the final two paths to the ‘pie’, so now we have all 8 slices! We’ve officially decided that one slice will be for Scott’s apple breeding program (eventually), and the other will be a nursery/orchard… something we will potentially start this year. Yesterday, I cut the grass surrounding the black tarp in the slice that will be the pumpkin patch. I won’t remove that tarp until the seeds I start this weekend are ready to transplant, so probably not for a couple of weeks yet. And I cut a bit of grass in the berry patch-slice. We have several raspberry patches in the yard that desperately need some love so that they will actually produce a good harvest, one that is actually able to be picked. One of those is on a fence line from the chicken run, and since our plans for that area have changed, we’re removing that fence, and it will finally be easy to clean up those raspberries! I’d like to move them into the berry patch and put up some supports for the canes that will help me to control their growth, keeping them appropriately thinned. The strawberry beds need to be weeded and straw mulch added, but they appear to be doing well. And I found a mulberry sapling in the flower bed along the house that I will dig up and plant in the back portion of the slice. I’m hoping to find some more of those as I’d like to have maybe 4-8 of them in that slice of the pie. (If you have some you want to get rid of, and you live close enough, feel free to send them my way… even if you live further away, feel free to ship them here 😉 )
We’re thinking we’ll start planting some of the grafted trees that we started last year on the tips of the pie slices, near the center of the pie, or along a portion of the walking trail, on the outer edge of one slice.
The Produce Stand
I was able to re-frame the produce stand and begin adding the wood for the walls, and the roof is finished, but the project has been on stand-still. I’m thinking I’ll work on it again soon, maybe once I get the main garden all planted. I really want it to be completed soon, but between a late season snowstorm and the fire… we’ll see. I am hoping to be able to sell pumpkins in it, so ultimately, I should try and get it completed before the end of summer. Not too difficult of a task, but I just need the time for it.
Grafting and Rootstock Prep
This one is questionable. We ordered our rootstock and scheduled it to be delivered by April 1st, but the company said they wouldn’t ship to us until April 15th, which we agreed to, but then the shipment didn’t arrive until the day after the fire… two weeks later than expected. And the fire kind of messed up our plans to get all of the grafting done the day we were expecting to, so we really aren’t sure how that project will turn out. The rootstock has been grafted and planted anyhow, and we’ll see how it goes. I’m hoping we have at least a few of our trees grow. As for what we worked on last year, we had some success, some failure. One of the species we grafted all healed, but died. It appears the other ones we grafted lived, but we’re still kind of waiting to confirm. On the rootstock end of things, we missed our window of opportunity to divide those last year and will have to try again this year, but it’s not a loss.
Now, with those being the goals that we set for ourselves, I’d say we’re doing more than okay. It was a relief to realize just how on track we were with our plans, and even a bit ahead of the game, because it means that aside from focusing on growing a great garden this year, we have time to move forward with other things.
I think it was last winter (2016/2017) that we decided we wanted to do some massive garden expansion. The idea was that we’d have four garden quadrants. The first quadrant would be the original garden, and then we’d add 3 more as we were able to. We wanted to have a ton of chickens so that we could sell eggs, get meat from them here and there, and maybe more importantly than both of those reasons, to have them work and prepare the garden for us. We’d rotate them through the different quadrants, let them work one for the spring, one in the summer, and one in the fall, leaving one fallow for planting in that year. They’d live in the chickshaw so that they wouldn’t need to attempt to be herded every day into the coop, and then we’d build a greenhouse along the north fence of the garden and it would double as a chicken coop in the winter, and we could move the chickens straight into the greenhouse through a door connecting the greenhouse and the garden. And in the winter, we’d have sort of a compost pile in the greenhouse that the chickens could dig through and work into compost for us to put in one of the garden areas in the spring, while using the coop during the spring for starting seeds, or at least hardening them off.
This plan, however, left me wondering what we’d end up doing with the coop half of the building once there weren’t chickens living in it anymore. I guess we sort of figured we’d always keep some chickens in there, or other poultry, but we were starting to toy with other ideas for uses for that space. Now that there’s a large, empty concrete slab, we have been really forced to stop and rethink what we want to do with that area. We talked about potentially pulling down the remainder of the building, but ultimately we agreed that it’s better to keep what remains and to repair it. We’ll continue to use that half of the building as a garden shed, and should we decide to move tools into a different building someday, we could still use that half of the building as a barn for small livestock, since it was originally a big barn to begin with. As for the concrete slab, we’ve got a couple of ideas for potential uses, but we’re going to just let those ideas simmer for awhile, probably deciding once we’ve actually gotten all of the mess cleaned up and the remains of the building repaired for the winter.
And to better answer the questions that I know some of you have: everybody is doing fine. I’ve probably taken it all the hardest. Scott is most definitely bothered by the whole incident, but he doesn’t show his stress or frustration easily. There have been days where it shows a little, but all in all, he’s been dealing with it all with a clear and level head. The kids have been doing fine. There has been talk about whether or not the chickies went to heaven or not, but mostly they are just excited for our new chicks to arrive next month. As for myself, it’s been more of a roller coaster ride. Some days are fine, and other days I feel overwhelmed or suffocated. Our already packed schedule just got even more full. I’ve never been very good at balancing the different aspects of my work, something that I’ve been trying to get better at, and this unexpected change is going to be testing me for certain! So far, I’ve just been trying to focus on continuing on with our garden plans… making sure that seeds are getting started as needed, starts are watered, and the garden keeps getting planted and weeded. We’re making good progress, but there’s a lot of work to go, and I just re-injured my knee which is going to slow things down even more. But I’m trusting in God and have been keeping Psalm 23 running through my mind often to remind myself that He’s the leader, He’s in charge, and He knows what He is doing!
I would LOVE to hear how your homestead plans (or garden or farm or summer plans) are coming along for 2018 thus far! Please, share in the comments!