Note to self: March is a busy month on our homestead. There is a temptation for me to think that March is just a cold, soggy, brown and gray month of the year. The reality is that March can be warm (even hot!), dry (though the ground may still be mostly frozen), and filled with brilliant blue skies. But the brown part, that’s pretty accurate. I was a bit foolish. I thought, “Gee, I’ll wait until the end of March to write a review of everything that we do…’Homesteading in Wisconsin: March’ ” and then about mid month, I realized that I probably should at least try to do a bi-weekly report because so much was going on…. yet so much was going on that I didn’t have time to write. And now I have a HUGE amount of stuff to share. Yeah. It was a busy month.
I took so many pictures this month. Pictures of our maple syrup production, pictures of building projects, pictures of the kids, of the land, of the animals… and suddenly, I’m trying to pare down over 200+ pictures to figure out what to include in here. Normally I don’t show many pictures of the kids, partly for privacy, and partly because sometimes I just forget to take pictures of them or don’t want to because they get a bit obnoxious in front of the camera. But then this month, we actually all (as a family) spent a huge amount of time working side by side, being goofy together, and just being a happy family. Most of the time. And I kind of want to share that with you!
I’m going to have to try to be really brief, because I could fill a book with the details of all that we did this month!
We planned our gardens (well, at least what we want to plant, but not a layout- yet) and started some of our seeds. Tomatoes, peppers, herbs, onions, and some flowers. In the next week or two, we’ll be planting more. We ordered a big silage tarp (100’x40′) to help us occulate the pumpkin patch for this year. That’s a whole new experiment and one I’ll fill you in on more another time. In order to hold this giant tarp down, we needed to collect old tires to serve as weights. Luckily, we had 18 tires tucked around the property in different places, and now they have a purpose. I only got the tarp down on Wednesday because of needing cooperative weather and a big stash of tires, but it’s down, and just in time too. Much later and I don’t know how effective it would be for prepping an area this garden season.
The chickshaw is finished! Well, I am going to have to make a few adjustments onto it, since I did some modifications from the original plans from Abundant Permaculture. But it works! The chickshaw is in the garden, and the chickens are doing their work, helping us prep our main garden bed. We had to get a new flock of chickens. All I will say is: Raccoons. Now we also have some movable electric poultry netting from Premier 1. Two nights now without issues. I still won’t feel fully settled until we’ve given it some more time, but it’s definitely working. We’ll probably share more about that in a month or two, after we’ve moved it once or twice. My main point? Chickshaw complete, with chickens, with electric netting. I can’t even tell you how happy Scott and I were to hear the sound of chickens clucking in the yard again!
For the first year ever, the kids and I have been planning ahead for their gardens. We took all of the cardboard that was amassed over the winter months and laid it out where they will be having their garden beds this year. We mulched with wood chips off of our pile, and we still have a bit of expansion to do on this project, but I’m pretty thrilled that the kids have been able to start some seeds indoors and that they have an area pre-prepped for their planting!
We also ordered some more rootstock so that we can do more grafting this year. It looks like the grafts we did last year were successful, but we’ll know more for sure in another couple of weeks.
Scott wrapped up the tree pruning earlier this month. All fruit trees, including the mulberry trees have been pruned, and he started pruning and thinning some of the trees back in the woods to help promote healthy growth. We’ve collected the branches from all of the trees and put them into a pile that will dry until summer or next year sometime, when we hope to turn it into bio-char for integrating into our garden beds and fields. The toys and things that the kids left out around the yard have been picked up and removed from frozen tundra (though, somebody is always leaving stuff laying around), and little by little, Scott and I have been working on cleaning up half-finished projects.
We had two large piles of wood that needed to be split and stacked, but between a host of different issues that I won’t even get into, they had been left over winter without being touched, much to our displeasure. Since we needed wood for boiling down our sap for syrup, we finally started picking away at one of the piles, and got it cleaned up. Then Scott’s dad showed up with his wood splitter for us to borrow, and thank goodness, we’re making some real progress!
We jumped the gun this year on tapping our maple trees, which is okay, but we’ll have to remember this for next year. We don’t really get enough sap until about right before St. Patrick’s day to make tapping worth it. We tapped both maple and box elder trees after tasting syrup that our neighbor gave us that was a 50/50 mix. The flavor is still super sweet, but just a little different. The only way I can think to describe it is to say it’s like milk chocolate vs. dark chocolate. I can’t remember off hand how many gallons of sap we’ve collected so far, but we just finished our 4th boil and ended up with just over 3 gallons of syrup in total. We’ve given a few bottles away to some family members, but we’ll be keeping most of it for ourselves, since I use maple syrup as a substitute for white sugar when possible, and we have a “larger than average family.”
After talking to the neighbor across the road, he said that he’s having high sugar sand content in his sap this year, which we noticed as well. A co-worker of Scott’s informed us that other than “aesthetics,” there’s nothing wrong with the “sand” and that it actually contains a lot of minerals. I knew that it didn’t affect the taste of the syrup, but I was glad to know that, because we’ve been having a difficult time filtering the sand all out this year.
This was the month of building projects. Gosh, I think this will just be the year of building projects. I had already gotten a good start on building projects back at the end of February, and March I was off and running! First it was the chickshaw. Then there was a bench for the dining room table, which I did worked up an excuse to work on by asking my sister-in-law if she wanted to have a bench-building day since I knew she had been wanting to make benches for her dining room table. (Soon-ish there will be a whole new dining room table, and potentially another bench…)
I tried working on the doors for the record player cabinet twice, but neither time went as planned, and I’ve been waiting to start on that again until I can be focused enough to cut everything correctly. However, the doors are going to have stained glass panels, and I’ve completed those at least! It was my first stained glass project since high school, so I’m glad I stuck with straight lines. I’ll definitely need to work on my breaking and scoring skills if I want to try anything more complicated in the future.
Scott had asked me to wrap up two bigger building projects: the produce stand and the garage doors, which I was more than happy to oblige him on. Neither is finished yet, as I still need some more materials and good weather to work on them further. But the produce stand has a sturdy frame built, with one wall partially up, the sub-roofing up, and the final roofing product cut and ready to be installed, once I finish boarding up the walls.
The garage doors were built two summers ago, in 2016. I have a million and a half reasons why those didn’t go up that year or last year, but I am happy to say that they have finally been installed! I need to tweak one door a bit. The building is pretty old, and the old door frame was pretty crooked, so I had to rectify that, and it still needs a bit of aesthetic work to hide the wonkiness. But the doors are in and sturdy and strong and (pretty) straight. Now I just need to put some plexi-glass panes in them and they’ll be done! Now I will need to build replacement doors for the other door so that we can get rid of the ugly, noisy door that is currently there. I don’t think that will be happening this year… not unless things go really smoothly all year!
Of course, there was the chickshaw as well, but last week, I had an unplanned building project come up. We’re starting to transition Poppy to spending most/all of her time outdoors, but she needed a place to lay down and sleep out of the elements. So I whipped together a dog house for her out of any piece of scrap wood I could find. I had scraps of spare 2x4s left from the other building projects and bits and pieces of plywood left. There was tar paper for keeping it watertight (sort of) that I was able to use, and we had an old roll of steel sheeting that has been sitting around for about 4 years that I finally used up to make a roof for the thing. I used short scraps of barnwood that were left over from all of the projects that I’ve been making, and gave the whole thing a nicer look and some reinforcement for stability and longevity.
And my final building project isn’t one I’ve officially started, but one that I’ll be working on in the coming months. It’s going to be a big one, so you’ll be sure to hear about that. But we’re going to have to get new materials for this project, so I had to do a lot of planning and pricing of materials. The small greenhouse that I talked about Pumpkin wanting to build? We’ll be starting that next week if the weather cooperates. He was pretty excited when I told him that 🙂
Speaking of Poppy, she’s growing up fast! She’s 6 months old now, and was spayed earlier in the month. That was hard. Not because she was hurt or anything like that, but because she’s got a lot of energy and the vet told us “no running, no jumping, no stairs.” Well, we didn’t have a choice but to ignore the stairs one because that’s the only way to get in and out of the house, but it was extremely difficult and stressful to try to keep her cooped up for two weeks! I was so relieved when the stitches finally came out! She’s training pretty well, though we’ve had our share of issues here and there. But she’s a good dog and slowly growing out of the crazy puppy exuberance. And she’s getting big! She’s still E’s best friend. Every day he wakes up and looks for her, and he loves sneak attacking her with his hugs and watching her while she sleeps. He misses her when she’s outside playing, and since he loves being outside as well, he really just wants to be out there with her.
Well, E’s nearly 2 now. He’s starting to talk a LOT. And he’s reaching that feisty two-year old stage of independence but still woefully shy of being truly independent. The big kids have been somewhere between the happiest I’ve ever seen them and the grumpiest I’ve ever seen them. They’re excited about the warmer weather and want to be outside at all times, which can make anything that needs to be done indoors even more of a chore than it already is. They’ve been helping me in the kitchen a lot (which I’ll share more about soon), and they’ve been working with Scott on genealogy research when we aren’t outside working on chores out there. They’ve been helping to collect sap and boil it down, helping with building projects and cleaning up the yard. And they are currently working on digging a big hole in the yard.
Actually, March has been kind of amazing for us in that this is the first time our family has truly been able to work together on projects around the homestead, whether it be cleaning or building or something else. We’ve done stuff together in the past, but for a long time, I was tied up in the house with the little boys, changing diapers all of the time, feeding people, and trying to stay on top of housework. So while Scott was maybe able to work on stuff with the kids, or I was able to work on things with the kids, we were really seldom able to work as a family on anything, and Scott and I were just about never able to work on things together since there was always so much to be done! We’re wrapping up the month with our final preparations for the most important day of the year!
What have you been working? If you have a homestead, what does homesteading in March look like for you?
I hope you enjoyed a blessed day celebrating the Resurrection this Easter!