It’s February, and that means it’s time for us to be thinking seriously about our homesteading plans for the coming year. In the next week, we’ll be ordering the rest of our seeds and hopefully drawing up some garden plans. Soon, we’ll be ordering more chicks (egg layers), and running around the yard tapping trees for sap. I’m excited but nervous for our 2018 homestead plans… we made plans last year, and things just didn’t go according to said plan. This year, I think things might go a little more smoothly. Entering our 3rd official homesteading season, I think that maybe, just maybe, we have an understanding of our limitations, our strengths, and have a handle on just how important some organization is going to be.
But before I go any further, I should note that these “plans” are more like serious and determined hopes. We had a pretty good understanding of our personal limitations last year, but we did not anticipate how bad allergy season would be, how uncooperative the weather was going to be, or the fact that I was going to be sick on and off through the better part of the summer. You can make all of the plans that you want, and sometimes life just kicks you in the pants. So we eat our humble pie, thank the good Lord for teaching us a lesson, and dig in. Our plans are not concrete. Scott works a 40+hour a week job away from home. We still have 5 kids ages 9 and under. We have a puppy (who, thankfully, will be pretty well trained by the time spring arrives). And, well, things are bound to come up. So I’m not making a list of all of the things we hope to get done. I’m just attempting to list the things we think that we might, maybe, God permitting, be able to get done this year.
Here are our (hopefully) reasonable plans for 2018.
Maple Syrup and Honey
One of our long-term goals for our homestead is to be able to convert from refined, store bought sugars over to the use of maple syrup and honey as much as possible. We had success with harvesting both last year, and this year plan to pursue both further. Maple syrup season is just around the corner for us, so weekend before this past one, Scott and the kids purchased some more taps and tubing for our endeavors, along with a better filter bag. In the coming week, we’ll have to prepare all of our other supplies (the taps and tubing from last year, along with the buckets, should all be properly cleaned), and when the timing is right, we’ll be placing taps!
We did pretty well with our syrup making last year, but honestly, I knew very little about it going into the season, so I wasn’t much help. This year, I understand the process better and should be able to help significantly more with the whole operation. We also purchased a new thermometer for the final cooking process of the syrup. We broke 3 different thermometers last year (no, not in the syrup– in the sink or on the counter), so I decided it was time to get a digital thermometer. We might get a hydrometer eventually, but I do things throughout the year where I need a candy thermometer, so I figured that this one should do the job well.
As for honey, well, I still need to write up about the final stages of our bee-keeping experience from last year (I’m working on it), but we have some plans for bees as well. Tiffany (my sister-in-law) will be moving her hives to her new house. They moved at the end of summer, so now they have a place to put their own hives! That’s a pretty super amazing big deal for them! So Scott will be bee-keeping solo this year. Well, maybe. They might still help each other, and I’ll be helping Scott out as much as is needed. Sometimes last year, they’d plan to wait and check on the bees until a certain date, only to have to put it off longer because it would start raining or get too windy to take care of the bees. Scott will still be in charge of operations around here, but if he does need help, I’ll be able to lend a hand since I have a better understanding of what it entails to be a beekeeper.
We all failed miserably* at getting the bees winterized (yes, I know, that’s not good), so we have to start with new bees this year. Those are going to be ordered at the beginning of next month, I believe! *Tiffany had a big move and had a new baby at the end of honey season, and we were getting ready for a road trip. We thought we’d have time to winterize after we got back, but there was a pretty hard cold snap while we were away, and…
Chickens and Garden Expansion
Why pair those two topics together? Well, the chickens are a part of the garden expansion plan. Last year, we were unable to fence in the extra squares of garden that we wanted to add. I’m not expecting to get them all fenced in, but the plan is to at least fence in one more section of future garden space. We won’t be adding wood chips to it initially. The plan is just to have the chickens live in a quadrant for a month or a season, and let them eat the grass and till for bugs. They do the prep work, and then we can plant.
But they still need a home to live in, and chickens aren’t big on being herded, so we need a mobile chicken coop to solve our problem. Only, we don’t want to use a chicken tractor because those are big and heavy and have to be moved every day. Most egg layers are active birds compared to the birds bred for meat, so they need more room for grazing. Instead of a chicken tractor, one (or both) of us will be building a chickshaw in early spring. What’s a chickshaw, you ask? It’s like a chicken rickshaw. A raised, lightweight chicken coop, including nesting boxes, that’s on wheels. The chickens can go underneath the coop and till, or just be out of the coop in a much larger fenced in area and walk around. Ours will have to be the right size to be able to move in and out of the different quadrants of the garden, through our gates. Our gates were intentionally designed to be large so that we could fit one of these in and out, and also get the 4-wheeler and trailer in if needed.
Part of our continual chicken protection plan for the foreseeable future was to invest in a dog. Specifically a puppy. We’ve been working for the past few months to train Poppy well. She needs more exposure to the chickens, but she’s learning what is expected of her and what is not. In the meantime, she’s making great friends with Doodles and E. They don’t have to help with her chores so they’re best friends 🙂 A part of our gardening plans will include teaching Poppy to be familiar with and protect any and all chickens that we own, and also teaching her the boundaries of the yard (including not digging in the garden).
In addition to adding the second quadrant to the garden (as I said, right now we only have one of four fenced in) and building a chickshaw, we also really need to get some more egg laying chickens. Why? Well, for one, we’re seriously down in numbers after a rough predator season last year, in addition to losing some small chickens when we had a hard cold snap after Christmas. When the chickens that we have left begin laying again, we’ll probably get a little bit more than we need for our daily needs, and should still be able to sell some, but we want to ensure that we have enough for our family to eat eggs regularly (n addition to baking with them) and we really do want to sell eggs. The other reason we want more chickens is that we want to have them work for us. The right kinds of chickens will till your soil for you and can help prepare garden beds (like I said before). We’re looking into dual purpose breeds this time, and also ones that are well known for their cold-hardiness. I have a couple of breeds in mind, but we’ll see what we end up with! Good foragers will do more tilling and also require less feed, which all around equates to less work for us.
Seed Starting Area and Garden Plans
All of that garden space is kind of useless without a garden plan! We’ll be working on those in the next couple of weeks, and with it, starting seeds for some of the plants that need more time (like tomatoes and peppers). I set up a seed starting area last winter, and it was okay, but not great. It was really only a makeshift, temporary setup until we could set up something better, and now is that time. This past Friday (thanks to my parents) and Saturday, I was able to get a lot of work done on the seed starting area. I moved shelving from a different part of the basement into our planting area, and hung up lights on the shelving so that we have more space for our seed starting.
I’ve been wanting to put a sink into the basement somewhere since we moved, and we just so happened to have one up in the granary, so I pulled that out last week, washed it down, and brought it inside to put in the existing counter. I did all of the prep work for the counter ( cleaned it, added some reinforcements, and cut the hole for the sink), and Scott took a ride into town to get the supplies I needed to finish the job (some hosing and piping) and picked up an extra light, along with a lot of potting soil. He got the plumbing started, and I finished it up. But there’s still a bit of work to be done. I’d like to add in a bit more counter space, and I just have to clean and organize everything. Even without doing all of that, we’d still be able to start planting today!
As for garden plans, we are still intending to expand as I mentioned earlier. We’re still working out the details on the how, but we have a few good ideas in the works. I’m thinking Scott might have to take off of work for a day or two when the weather is nice, but before allergy season is in full swing so that he and I can just worry about getting fencing put in and any other prep work that will be necessary for our expansion. Part of the planning is trying to figure out how much food we need to have enough of what we want to get us through the year (or at least part of it). Since our garden didn’t do well last year, it’s hard to say just how much we need to plant. But I did try and sort of pay attention to the foods that we were eating or which foods we missed eating so that I could see what we need to grow more of. We’ll be going through the seed catalogs in the next couple of days and then place our orders.
Beginnings of a New Building
This one is on Scott’s to-do list, and it’s a pretty high priority to him, but I’m thinking there’s a pretty good chance it won’t happen this year… at least not all of it. We are potentially getting a pole barn from a friend that we would then retrofit with boards from our barn since it needs to come down anyway. There’s two big problems with this though. 1) Money, and 2) Time. Isn’t that how it always goes? First of all, the disassembling and reassembling of this structure is a pretty big undertaking no matter how you look at it. So it’s going to take a lot of time. Scott does have some vacation time, so there is a possibility that he could take time off to manage that project. However, the building is about 4 or 5 miles away and will have to be moved here, which means that the supplies will have to be transported, but that’s a potential $ issue. On top of that , we need to get a building permit and prepare the groundwork for said structure. All around, lots of money, lots of time. So… we’ll see. We will probably at least aim to get the permit and the groundwork laid.
We’ve gotten the problems with our chicken tractor pretty well sorted out. We’d like to do meat birds again, but I was pretty burnt out from dealing with them by the time we butchered our last batch. Granted, we ended up raising extra chickens because of the predator issues. We might build a third chicken tractor (maybe not), and we’re going to get our batches a little closer together (two week spacing instead of four). We haven’t decided on a number yet, but we’re thinking of doing 3 or 4 batches of 40 each, since we know 40 will fit in each tractor. If our dual purpose breed plan is going well next year, we’ll get less meat birds and more egg layers instead. We do intend to raise meat birds either way in the future, just probably less of them for our own consumption at least.
Lavender Hedge and Pie Field
If you remember, last year, we started laying the ground work for the “Pie Field.” It’s a sort of odd-shaped field that we intend to grow a lot of food in eventually. We’re dividing the field into 8 “slices” and each slice will be planted with something different than the adjacent slices. Four out of 8 will eventually become permanent growth… one is going to be planted with berries, another is going to be nut trees, and another will potentially be a nursery space for the trees that we grow and the rootstock that we propagate. We’re still unsure as to what we want the 4th permanent slice to be, but it may end up being more fruit trees or berries. We would eventually like to plant the other slices as small fields of corn, pumpkins, sunflowers, or grains, but possibly other things as well. Last year I planted some hazelnut bushes and black walnut trees in the nut “slice,” and the berry slice was planted with a few strawberries, and I really want to move some of our raspberries over there and also plant a few mulberry trees.
We are hoping to eventually line our walking trails with a variety of fruit trees, not only to feed us, but to attract more wildlife and to potentially sell the fruit someday or at the very least give to family and friends. However, I have a vision of bordering one portion of the trail that edges the pie field with a lavender hedge. I’ve tried to grow lavender a few times before, unsuccessfully, but then again, I hadn’t really done enough research. After asking around and doing a lot of reading, I think I might be ready to give it a try, if not this year, then next. At the very least, my hope is to prepare a section of the trail for planting next year. After years of toying with the idea, I finally bit the bullet and ordered a soil pH tester. Now I might actually know how to amend my soil for planting blueberries someday, as well as for the lavender! There are other plants that also need specialized soil amendments, so all in all, it will be a good tool to have on hand. They aren’t terribly expensive either, so I’m not sure what took me so long to get one!
The Produce Stand
I started working on this last year, but I’ll be basically starting over once it gets warm out. It’s not that big or complicated of a project, so it shouldn’t take too long to build, but I need to have some of the right materials on hand and a little help keeping the kids out of the way while I work. Even if we have nothing to sell this year, I’d like to have it completed before the end of the year so that next year it will be ready!
Grafting and Root Stock Prep
Last year, we tried our hand at both grafting and root stock propagation. We won’t know for certain until spring, but our grafts did really well last year and should be doing pretty well this year. We sort of messed up on the root stock, but it didn’t really wreck anything, it just set us back a season. This year, we’ll be ordering some more root stock, doing some more grafts, and Scott wants to begin breeding apples. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll have a small-scale fruit tree nursery!
I feel like I might be forgetting something else, but I’m not sure. There are plenty of other things we’ve talked about potentially doing someday, and we had even been planning on raising some cattle for meat, but right now, I don’t think that is something that will happen this year. We’re just going to aim to get the items on this list completed (or at least started), but we’ll base our decisions off of what items are most important (namely, more chickens and garden expansion) and see where we end up.
If you live in the area and want to help us out in one way or another with one of our projects (watching the kids or helping with manual labor), let me know! That way I know who to reach out to if and when we are ready to work on things! What are your homestead or gardening plans for 2018?