Homestead Report, April 2018

In the Garden

The peach trees bloomed just before the temperatures plummeted to freezing. I'm crossing my fingers that I will still get a decent harvest. The blooms didn't drop prematurely, but the bees were tucked up in their hives, not happily pollinating my trees as they were the day before the freeze.

The Honeycrisp and Arkansas Black apple trees are filled with beautiful, billowy, fragrant blossoms. This is the first year I've seen many blooms on the trees--hopefully we will finally get some tasty fruit from these trees! (They have been in the ground about three years, I think.) The Fuji Apple tree has some leaves unfurling, but I don't see any blooms yet.

Blueberries have just started to bloom. Sadly, the chicken experiment resulted in the early demise of two Sweetheart Blueberry bushes that I hope to replace this summer. The strawberries also took a heavy hit last year. I can see a handful of plants making their comeback, but I fear most were destroyed. I thought I saw some asparagus growing several weeks ago, but it was likely eaten by chickens. I don't expect the asparagus plants to come back--I may plant asparagus again someday, but will probably wait until we move to a more permanent location.

We reseeded grass to cover the dirt patch that used to be our backyard lawn. It's starting to come up, and I'm pleased to see the green on the ground instead of the barren earth our chickens left behind.

The daffodills and tulips are beginning to fade in the front yard. I transplanted a lilac bush to the front, and it's doing swell. It gets more sun in it's new home and may finally produce some blooms. I also sowed a bunch of echinacea seeds and plan to add salvia, lavender, catmint and coreopsis for a pretty flower garden along the driveway.

Seed Starting

I started seeds very late this year! I just started tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant and basil, and some early broccoli and cabbage. Although I'm starting these seeds about 6-8 weeks behind schedule, our growing season is long enough that I will still get a decent harvest from a late start. I'm choosing to use the seeds and seed growing medium I already have instead of purchasing seedlings to transplant, mostly to avoid unnecessary spending. One of the skills I'm working on is Homestead Economy -- to use what I have instead of going out and buying more.

I've also started some herbs. All the animals in the backyard seemed to conspire against my herb garden, and between dog urine, vole tunneling and chicken foraging, all the herbs were killed. So, in pots now, I have nice rosemary and oregano plants, and seeds started for cilantro, marjoram, thyme and sage. I'll add a few more cooking herbs and fill in the herb garden with some stones and river rock over the next few weeks--the herb garden and some other shade-tolerant plants will surround the brick patio I'm still working on.

Direct Sow

I have a little patch of dirt in the corner of the backyard (about 12 ft x 4 ft) that I plan to install some apple tree guilds in later in the season, but for now, that dirt will be my spring veggie patch.  I've started sugar snap peas, leeks, kale, kohlrabi, turnips, chard, lettuce and marigold, and will plant more in a couple weeks for a continuous harvest until summer sets in.

I also sprinkled some radish, arugula and mizuna (mustard) seeds for a quick-sprouting groundcover and harvest while the other plants get going. I'll need to add some support for the peas once they sprout--I'm planning to build a simple trellis out of the sticks in our yard. 

As I harvest the vegetables, I'll begin planting the perennials and trees that will have permanent residence. I'm planning to get a few more apple trees and a blueberry bush to complete my "permaculture orchard" border along the fence. I'll also tuck in chives, echinacia, catmint and some licorice, anise hyssop and comfrey.

Harvest

Nothing to harvest right now, other than violets (which my son considers a delightful snack). I'm looking forward to harvesting some quick-growing vegetables next month! The cold weather has slowed the strawberries; I don't think I'll see any ripe berries in our yard until the end of May.

The chickens are laying wonderfully. I usually have a surplus of eggs to give away or feed to our lucky dog. I love having chickens and their fresh eggs, in spite of the damage they wrought on my yard last winter.

Skill Building

Right now, I'm really focusing on Plant Tending. It's been my habit in the past few years to have a lot of enthusiasm in starting plants, then fail to tend them well. I would like my plant efforts to bear more fruit this year! 

I also have some projects in store to improve my Building Skills--I need to build a raised bed for my summer vegetable garden, and I also need to build a permanent gate for the chicken run. We have a strip of chicken wire up right now, but the chickens keep finding holes to escape through, and I don't want them finding and gobbling up the plants before I can.

The other skill I am working on is Time Management. Between my professional work, homestead efforts, homeschool/childcare responsibilities and other commitments, I don't have a lot of time to waste on non-productive activities. I recently deactivated my Facebook account, and I've noticed some improvement in project completion. I have plenty of time for breaks and quiet activity, and making sure those breaks are nourishing keeps me from feeling drained. Facebook (and web-surfing in general) are not nourishing for me. For me, nourishing rest is reading, writing, music/singing, light gardening, hiking and knitting, so those are the activities I will try to do when I need a break (not peruse the internet!).

Looking Toward May

Next month I hope to be harvesting some early vegetables, transplanting the seeds I've started into the new raised bed, adding some blueberry bushes and flowering plants to the yard. I will also refill my kiddo's sandbox with fresh sand so he can play for hours outside this summer.

I also hope to save up some money to get a couple of trees cut down behind the garage so I can move the chicken coop to its permanent spot and bring more sunlight into the back yard.

Homestead tasks for the next few weeks:

  • Clean up branches from backyard
  • Continue watering grass and newly planted herbs and veggies
  • Eagerly anticipate sprouting of seeds and explosive growth of strawberry plants
  • Build raised bed planter (like this one)
  • Fill new raised bed with compost mix
  • Continue to work on bathroom remodel (drywall mud, primer and paint)
  • Seriously consider adding a beehive and bees to the backyard this summer
  • Use up strawberry jam from last year! I have several jars of unused jam. I plan to have it on toast, and make some thumbprint cookies. I need more jam plans.