Homesteading

Springtime Productivity

I love this time of year, and how productive we are. Before the heat sets in and the bugs become unbearable, we spend as many good weather days as possible working on our to-do list. Any cleanup we want done for the year needs to be done before the grass gets too high, and there is always a rush to get things in order for planting time. Springtime productivity is so different than summer, fall, and winter productivity. There has been a lot of bustle around here this past week, but for the last month, we’ve seen a lot of great changes!

We have the best sunsets!

Scott has been able to spend a lot of time working around here this spring. Allergies have been a pain, but so far, he’s been able to manage them a little better through extra showers and washing his face often. I need to give him and all of the boys haircuts, too. He says that having his hair short helps a lot. Our allergies kicked in about two weeks early this year, as the weather started to warm a couple of weeks earlier than normal. My mom always hopes for the fruit blossoms to be open by Mother’s Day, and this year, they actually started to open a week BEFORE. That’s not normal.

But I sidetracked… I think Scott has been able to do more around here this spring than he has ever been able to before. The early spring helps, but even so, he hasn’t been too tired after work, we don’t have tons of things on our schedule, and now that the kids are getting bigger, things feel a little more manageable (even when they are incredibly frustrating).

I’m not sure when exactly, but Scott spring-toothed the fields/gardens twice already this year. He’s going to run over the two newer areas one more time closer to planting time, and we’ll take a section off the spring-tooth to pull behind the new tractor so I can work amendments into the garden beds. (Until this week, it’s been a pretty dry spring. We got a lot of rain the other day, more today, and a chance again tomorrow and/or Saturday, I think. I hope it dries out again for a bit after that so we can get the rest done before planting time without ripping everything up!) There are sort of three areas that we plowed, but two are connected. The connected sections are the main garden and then two of the pie field slices (so I guess technically, that’s three areas, but I count the field area as one). The other is where our friends planted a garden last year, on the other side of the stream, near the barn. We plowed a significantly larger section in the fall so we can let more people garden here if they would like to.

Scott cut down some trees for a relative back when I was boiling sap, and he was able to bring quite a bit of good wood home from that. There was also wood that he pulled from different areas of the property. He borrowed the wood splitter from his dad, and recently, he worked on splitting all of that. He thinks we ended up with about two cords of good wood that we’ll be able to use in the woodstove whenever we actually get that installed. He and the kids worked on stacking that all on the front porch. I think this may be one of the most exciting things for Scott that he’s worked on. He’s been cutting and splitting and stacking wood for/with other people for about 20 years now, and this was the first time he really did anything substantial for his own purposes.

Scott and his hard work. The black barrel has kindling in it, and the grey bucket is gone. I think he added more wood to the pile after this was taken, and he may stack more on top of this during the summer.

He also split some “junk wood” for us to use in the sap boiler. We’ve got a stack on the slab at the moment, and there is a stack back behind the granary, too. It’s probably enough for us to be able to cook down most of next year’s sap. The “good” news for us is that we have some ash trees on the property line that have been attacked by the emerald ash borer, so those trees should come down as soon as possible, which means more wood for burning. (I say “good” in quotes, because we want to take down as few trees as possible, and we’re being very selective. It stinks to have to lose something on the property line.)

The woods is largely maple trees and pines that are 15-20 years old. There are a number of pines that will possibly have to come out if we want things to continue to grow well. Many of the maples have multiple trunks, so Scott wants to cut those down to one each. That will hopefully keep trees from splitting when they get older which could cause them to die altogether. There’s still quite a bit of wood we can take out without taking away from the “woodsiness” of the woods.

There has been a lot of clean up done around here, lots of the usual stuff, but plenty of new things, too. Every spring, we have to go around the property (particularly the yard) and clean up after the kids. There are shovels that get buried in snow, garbage that the dog or chickens got into and blew away, toys, random clothing, you name it, it’s scattered around the yard. Which is baffling, because we always clean up before the snow comes…

Can you believe that they’d leave messes everywhere they go? They’re so cute, but they’re messy!

We had to clear out the fenced area for the pigs, we’ve been picking up around the slab from the old coop a little at a time, and Scott recently scooped up the old compost pile with the new tractor and put that in one of my huglekulture beds. We pulled down the posts from the old bird feeder, the fruit trees were pruned and all of the brush has finally been picked up, and we’ve been burning garbage and old, broken furniture and cleaning out the garage and granary. These are all “little” things we did that have made a big difference.

This pen was covered in tall weeds, and there were fence posts in the middle of it from some old trellises. Now it’s starting to look like somebody could garden in here!

Scott and the boys pulled all of the taps this year and cleaned up all of the maple syrup supplies, which was a time-saver for me. Any time he and the kids can tackle a project, it means I don’t have to try to squeeze it into my schedule.

Since the tractor arrived, we’ve been able to cross a lot of goals off of our list. Scott scraped up the slab by the barn. There’s a pile of shingles that needed to be cleaned up, and there’s some other dirt and debris that had to be moved. He also scraped an area next to the pigpen where the ground was really uneven and leveled that out. He’s going to use some of that dirt to build up the dirt bike jumps, and the rest will probably fill holes around the property. As I mentioned, he moved the old compost pile. That would have probably taken an hour to do by hand, and the shoveler would have had a very sore back!

We dug the huglekulture beds, which really, is a huge deal. I was going to have to do it all by hand, and I really, REALLY didn’t want to. I need it to dry out a bit more before I can finish assembling those. Between the two of us, we dug 5 beds in maybe 20 minutes or so. And I used the loader bucket to help level out a huge furrow that ran down the middle of the garden. It’s still there, but not as deep or wide as it was. It was good practice for me on the bucket. I probably could have done a better job, but the kids kept getting a little too close to the tractor, so I had to call it quits.

Yesterday, I spent most of the day on yardwork. I finally got around to planting some plants that I had purchased, and I planted flowers that my friend and neighbor gave to me recently. I worked all of the soil around the two cherry trees on the driveway to the barn and planted some tulips, daffodils, strawberries and other flowers around them, and then mulched them with some straw. The other flowers were planted in various spots around the yard.

I weeded one of the beds in the Secret Garden, and I weeded around the Produce Stand. The mint that I planted late last summer was thriving, so I divided it up and planted more. I know it spreads like crazy, but I’d rather have more mint than not. I want to have it around for tea, and in summer, we’ll make mint julip lemonade (non-alcoholic) for the annual tea party, and I’ll probably make some for Independence Day, too.

There are some trees around the kids’ gardens and the Produce Stand that needed a bit of pruning, so I did that too. And I dug up one of my forsythia bushes and replanted it because it was too close to one of the cherry trees and it was getting so big so fast. I hope it survives being transplanted! There’s an ash tree and a box elder over by the produce stand that I want to keep there as they’ll provide extra shade in the future, but I had to cut the lower branches down so that they don’t end up hitting the stand itself.

Scott pulled an old trailer of his brothers over by the house so we can turn it into a mobile chicken coop. This won’t be the same as a chicken tractor, as this will have nesting boxes. The boys started to work on it, but made a couple of mistakes, so it’s probably going to be finished by either Scott or me.

Just a couple of goofballs in a trailer.

Oh, pre-pigs, Scott worked on more grafts. Of the trees that we grafted and planted last spring, about 25% survived. This was a surprising amount, considering we did not weed around them, and they kind of got neglected… Let’s just say that mistakes were made. We still have to weed around them now, and then we’ll put some of the silage tarp I bought a few years ago around them to help keep the weeds back so the trees have a chance to survive.

Yes, I decided to cut up that very large, very expensive tarp. I in no way regret having purchased it, but it was way too difficult for me to be moving by myself. We’re still going to use it, just in smaller chunks. I finally had the kids lay down some tarp in their gardens yesterday, and I think I’m going to have them plant at the end of the planting timeline so that we can kill off as much as possible. I had wanted to do this back in April, but we never got around to it. But now that we have tarps cut for it, maybe we’ll do better with it in the fall?

I’m going to use the rest of the tarp to tarp two of the garden beds I’m making in the big garden. I’ll cut some small holes into it for the crops that I plant with it, so it will act as a mulch.

We bought about 20 cattle panel earlier this spring. We went in on a bulk order with some of our local friends, and were able to save a bunch of money that way. One of them went to pick up the panels and delivered the rest to us. We wanted them as trellises for our gardens. I ended up using three of mine for fencing the piggies out of the apple grafts that are planted in the back side of the garden, and one is now an arbor/arch/trellis into the Secret Garden. The rest will be used in the garden for everything from tomatoes to beans to squash.

I was going to do some different kind of arbor in the Secret Garden, but between the spike in lumber prices and the fact that I had some plants that had to go in the garden right away and would potentially need a trellis ASAP, I decided to go this route. I can always replace it in the future if I want, but we’ll see how this holds up. The plants I needed it for are kiwis! I’m really excited to grow them, as I have been wanting to do this for years. I found them at Tractor Supply back in March. They are “hairless” and small, like a large grape, but that sounds perfect for the kids. I love having fruit growing around that they can just pick and snack on, and this will hopefully be a great addition.

I’m thrilled to finally be investing more time into the Secret Garden. Every year, things shape up a little bit more, but I feel like it’s actually going to be closer to what I envision it to be by this summer. It’s still going to take a long time for everything to fill in like I want it to, but just to have the structure of everything in place is going to be a big deal. And the kids are actually big enough to help me with certain aspects of it, so I may be able to get more done on it this year than I even expected. Maybe. I’ll try to take pictures of the changes so I can compile it all eventually for a good before and after.

Update on the greenhouses… The big one got damaged in some of the wind we’ve been having. It’s been a pretty windy spring for us, and we live in a bit of a wind tunnel, so any kind of non-permanent greenhouse was bound to have some issues. However, I was able to “fix” it and make it more secure, and we haven’t had problems since. I DID have to leave the windows open on it before fixing it, which caused the plants I had started to die. I left the windows open because the structure was too much of a parachute in the wind, and letting the wind blow through it was keeping it from lifting off the ground completely. So, it’s definitely a temporary structure. Really, we hope it lasts us through this year and maybe through another, but we never intended it to be long-term. I’d just like to be able to use it for what we bought it for! We are currently storing some non-greenhouse related things inside of it to give us a bit of space in the granary, and until we can build the summer kitchen.

The cold snap that killed my greenhouse plants. It was pretty, but unfortunate.

The little greenhouse has faired much worse. The wind has ripped it up pretty badly. I fixed it with some waterproof tape, and it was holding up well until we had another really windy day. The good news is that I found carrots and onions growing in it, so it’s working! I do need to repair it again, however. I think it would work okay if we had it in a different location.

And the other day, a friend came over and started to work on taking more of the barn apart. He might work on it again soon, and Scott intends to spend some more time working on it. We realized that we can store the wood in the silo, so that’s good. We want to take it down and hopefully, maybe build a new structure with it, but we have to store the wood somewhere until it’s useable. So far, we’ve only been taking off what was needed for projects. There is a small chance we would use some of the wood to build the summer kitchen, but I think that will really depend on how much we can get off the building that’s useable, and how long it takes to take the thing apart.

There’s probably a lot that I’m forgetting to mention! It’s always so busy here, and unless I have it written down somewhere, it’s a challenge to remember it all.

Love and Blessings~ Danielle

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