Homesteading in Wisconsin: April. (I started writing this post at the very, very end of April and had tried finishing it at the beginning of May, but we were really busy, and then things got a little crazy.)
April 2018 was a challenge for homesteading. We had anticipated accomplishing so many important tasks before allergy season kicked in, but it just didn’t work out like that. I admit, I was a little disappointed. Between the flu and multiple late season snows (including our biggest snowstorm of the season), our attempts to get specific projects completed before May just failed. Initially, I felt a bit discouraged, like I hadn’t been able to accomplish enough, but when I started writing down all of the things that we had done, for this post, I was pretty pleased. Sure, the list was missing some major tasks, but in spite of the setbacks, we didn’t do too badly.
The first week in April, our household was hit with the flu. Out of seven people, I was the only person who never got the full-blown sickness. Scott missed days of work and was probably the most sick out of everybody in the family. For days, he laid around with a very high fever, muscle aches, headaches, chills, stomach aches, a stuff nose… you name it, he had it. Some of the kids had it to a lesser degree, but there was a day when I was the only one not sick, and I was a bit afraid to leave the house for any reason, even to take care of the chickens, because they all felt SO BAD. Then, near the end of it, I started to feel crummy with some major congestion in my upper body- the kind you can feel in your shoulders, chest, throat, and nose. There was a full 7 days from the time Scott initially got sick until we got over the worst of the symptoms. The “good news” in all of this was that it ended up snowing most of that week anyhow, and so I wouldn’t have been able to work on much outdoors anyway.
Week two wasn’t a whole lot better. Definitely more productive, but instead of having fevers, the whole family was grumpy. The kids fought day in, day out, and we were so tired. I tried to get us caught up on things, but it was a challenge. Between house work and all of the work that didn’t get done outside the week before, there was a lot to do. The snow that we had gotten was mostly gone by the beginning of week two, so we were able to work outside, but my strength was still pretty diminished.
My original plan was to work with Pumpkin to build his greenhouse and to finish up the produce stand during week 1 of April, but obviously that didn’t happen. I was never able to get around to finishing the produce stand in April (which was disappointing), but Pumpkin and I were able to work on his greenhouse during week 2. I also transplanted all of our tomato and lavender seedlings into pots that second week, I made a huge batch of chicken broth with Scott, and we had our first run of pressure canning ever, and canned over 3 gallons of broth. I was also able to cut and heal our seed potatoes for planting, though planting those won’t happen until this weekend.
I had really wanted to muck out the deep bedding in the chicken coop stalls and prepare the brood boxes for chicks during week 2 of April, but my lungs were still in rough shape from having been sick that first week, and I had a knee injury that was preventing me from doing something so labor intensive. We had chicks coming on April 18th, and I really needed to get everything cleaned and prepared, but I just couldn’t do it during the week, so my intention then became to clean the whole chicken coop during that weekend. But instead, we got a snowstorm…. the largest of the whole winter season! In spring! 12 inches + of heavy, wet, dense snow that came down in a storm that lasted 24 hours or more. It snowed so much that it was surprising that the snow wasn’t deeper than 12 inches. The snow was so dense that my feet really didn’t sink into the snow all that much as I went to feed chickens. I probably only made it about 6-8″ deep until I hit a really hard layer of snow (and it wasn’t ice-crusted, it was just so backed).
We lost one chicken due to the cold and ice of that storm. And I couldn’t get into their fence to lock them up at night or fill there feed and water dishes, so I had to throw their feed over the fence into the snow, and watched their snow/water consumption very closely. But that weekend was not a total loss. Our basement has been a source of frustration for me since the day we moved in. It’s a fairly large basement, and we really do use all of that space for a variety of things. There are old concrete and stone walls down there that divide the space into different rooms. There’s a bathroom that used to be a cistern, and next to it is our laundry area along with our extra freezers. The space next to that is where we have all of our outdoor clothing (jackets, shoes, boots, mittens…), and seeing as we live in a state with all 4 seasons, and we have 7 people in our family, and we have to store “in-between sizes” of kids stuff (because what one kid doesn’t fit into now, the next kid will next year), the space is kind of overwhelming. It’s also where Scott has his hunting clothing and where our seed-starting area is. (I’m shaking my head right now at how overwhelming that space is to me.) Then there’s the room that we use for food storage. Our furnace is in there, as well as a water softener and water heater, and there’s an extra, “mini-room” that has been used as a root cellar in the past, but that we still have yet to use. And then the last room is where we store seasonal decorations, regular clothing that is between sizes for the kids, and other miscellaneous things that get used periodically throughout the year.
I was a bit trapped in the house on Monday of week 3, what with all of the snow, so I took the opportunity to paint the living room before we undertake a larger project in there sometime in the coming months. I was finally able to get into the chicken coop and get the door open far enough to really work on cleaning up on Tuesday, the day before the chicks were to arrive. I was still short on time, my knee was acting up a lot, and I had to be really cautious since there was still ice all over the yard, and I was getting really worried about having chicks arrive in such cold weather. The earliest we had gotten chicks in the past was mid-May, when things are always quite a bit warmer. I decided to only focus on getting the brooders cleaned up and pre-heated, and figured I’d work on the rest after the snow was gone. I spent Wednesday morning washing all of the feeders and waterers, and just as I finished cleaning up, I got the phone call saying that the chicks were going to be delivered very shortly. 10 minutes later, there were 220 baby chicks (70 of which were Cornish Cross, the rest were a dual purpose bread), 4 ducks (Peking), and 2 turkey chicks (I don’t remember what breed) safely in their brooders.
We lost about 20 chicks in the course of the first 10 days. I think the losses were largely due to trampling because of the cold weather. We did what we could to keep them as warm as possible, but they still had to huddle a lot because it was just so cold, especially at night. I’m not sure on the totals of each breed that we lost, but it was a mix. Other than that, all was well with the birds. E was having an absolute ball with the birds, and just about had a heart attack if I went out to do chicken chores without him in the morning. All of the kids were really loving it.
Once the birds arrived, things started to improve. Our broadfork had arrived sometime during the chaos of the previous three weeks, so we hadn’t been able to try it out, but I found a bit of time before the end of the month to test it out.
Pumpkin and I wrapped up his greenhouse project, though there is a bit of repair work to do on it (I was expecting that to happen… the plastic got ripped in a recent thunderstorm). I finished boiling down the last of the maple and box elder sap, and we ended up with just over 3.5 gallons of sap this year. Scott finished splitting all of the wood on the two large piles that were sitting in the yard, and he was on garbage duty, finally being able to take things to “the dump” that we had not previously had the time to deal with. I was able to clear up a lot of scrap wood in the garage, and my recent projects have slowly had me chipping away at all of the “stuff” that we have saved up for” that project we we might need it for… someday.”
But we were still limited in our time. During the last two weekends of the month, we didn’t really have any time for working. The first of those two weekends, we had a funeral to attend as well as a First Communion for one of our Godson’s. The second weekend, Pumpkin and Peanut had their First Communion, and E celebrated his 2nd birthday, which felt extra special this year.
In the final week of April, I was finally able to complete the doors for the record player cabinet. I had worked on them a bit here and there over the first few weeks of the month. First I cut new door frames, then I sanded and painted, then inserted the glass… lots of drying time for everything, the glue for the doors, the caulk for the glass. Finally, I was able to put on the hardware and hang the doors. I may end up changing out the knobs for something else, because my original plan for hinges had to change, and that changed how the knobs looked…but it works, it looks pretty good, and it’s DONE! And I was finally able to get and install a pull for the cabinet I built for between the stove and the fridge back in February.
Near the end of the month (I don’t recall the date anymore), the bees arrived. Scott ended up doing very last-minute clean-up work on the hives because of all the unexpected delays, but he was able to get it done and “install” the bees. So far, the hives appear to be doing well, and just recently, the dandelions opened up, so we don’t need to give them any more sugar water. It appears there was a mix-up with our order of root stock, so those weren’t here when they should have been. We received more tires for helping hold down our giant tarp, and good timing too. We already had the wind shake it about a bit, but there were a few very windy days just recently, and I sure was glad to have the extra weight on it! We had a pile of larger branches from trimming the apple trees, and I finally got around to cutting those up into shorter lengths for future meat smoking projects. And I started making inquiries on prices for projects we need to complete.
And I was able to do a lot more work in the building we called the chicken coop. One half of the building was used as a garden shed, the other half as a two-room coop, with space for brooders and feed and tools in between them. In the coop side, I was able to clear out one of the coop rooms and get all of that in-between space cleared up. The birds grow so quickly, so we shuffled them around, putting some in the freshly cleaned room, and spacing out the others among the two brooders. I was able to put the deep bedding material in our garden where we have our older laying hens staying, and they spread it around nicely for us.
After the coop side was clean, I was able to focus on cleaning up the garden shed side. I had cleaned it up fairly well last year, but there were still some things that had to be dealt with, and the kids are just excellent of making messes of everything, so there was plenty that still needed to be dealt with. We found an abundance of hoses, and an excess of wire fencing, not suitable to our needs. I took some of the fencing and a stack of cardboard that needed to be dealt with, and the kids and I finished making their garden beds for this year. We laid out the cardboard to act as a grass and weed barrier, and put wood chips on top of it all. Then we put up a small fence around the perimeter of the whole kids’ garden area, and divided it into 4 sections, one for each of the older 4 kids. They’ll finally be able to have their own gardens this year! I’m not sure how it will turn out, but at least they have their spots started this year, and next year they should have even better results. Nothing planted yet, but very soon… We used one of the old mailboxes we have from when our mailbox kept getting hit with the snow plow last winter, and attached it to the side of Pumpkin’s greenhouse so that the kids have a place to store their garden trowels and garden gloves without having to go into the garden shed to look for them.
I feel nearly certain that I am forgetting things. We most definitely did not complete everything on our list for the month of April. The second fence is not put up for the new section of garden, I didn’t finish the produce stand, and I wasn’t able to finish the whole garage door project. I wasn’t able to do the majority of the garden prep that I wanted and needed to do either. For now, my priority is the garden bed until it is ready to plant in. I do have a portion of it ready to go (I started by dealing with one of the worst sections of the garden), and I planted garlic, peas, lettuce, dill, onions, and radishes. I am planning to do more planting this weekend, but I need to do a bit more cleaning up first. And oh my goodness, I am so glad that I downloaded Common Sense’s garden planning sheets. I’d be totally clueless on what to plant first and when!
I’m hoping to write a little more often very soon here, but things have been a bit chaotic around here as we try to play catch-up from the three lost weeks and deal with the coop fire. My hands are always dirty, and I have already gotten my first sunburn of the year! I can’t get over the fact that we can have a blizzard one day, and within two weeks, I’m getting sunburned… all in our own backyard!
What was your April like?